By: Arlene R. Weiss
After being plagued by numerous title changes, delays in production, editing, and release dates, Director Renny Harlin’s long awaited motion picture, 5 Days Of War has finally received an exclusive limited theatrical USA release on August 19, 2011, in New York City and Washington, D.C..
Harlin, known for his breakneck action thrillers, portrays an often melodramatic, sensationalized, and brutally graphic, (though highly entertaining) depiction, of the five-day, Russian-Georgian War of 2008.
The film centers on a group of journalists who try to tell the world about the atrocities of the conflict, from the Georgian point of view.
5 Days Of War has courted much controversy surrounding its failure to objectively and accurately address the intricate politics, triggers, and details on both sides of the war and its hagiographic glorification of the nation of Georgia. The people of Georgia, are portrayed as purely virtuous innocents, ruthlessly attacked by Russia and its separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
There’s not so much as a thought to showing the Russian point of view, people or events, except in the role of villainous tyranny, even though the people and peacekeepers of the Russian territory of South Ossetia were also attacked by Georgia and its military. Which might be noted and accounted for, in that the film was spearheaded and financed by Georgian Parliament member Mirza Davitaia and produced by Georgian film producer David Imedashvili and Georgia Parliament member Koba Nakopia. Moreover, the film premiered June 6, 2011 in Georgia as a benefit fundraiser to aid victims of the war.
Harlin seems to have lofty ambitions here in utilizing the recurrent theme of gaining the audience’s trust, and empathy via the war correspondent journalist’s point of view and first hand experiences. Which, when done with the attention to detail, care, and caution of such Oscar winning war films as The Killing Fields and The Year Of Living Dangerously, is strikingly effective.
Both films truly touched the viewer’s hearts and minds, raising their awareness to the horrors of war. More importantly, the audience also gains knowledge of the full depth and breadth of its causes, be they geopolitical, governmental, etc. set within a context of deep human emotion and complex well drawn characters.
Instead, Harlin’s penchant for adrenaline and gut reaction bravado grandstanding takes center stage with often one dimensional caricatures and exceedingly manipulative, emotionally fueled, contrived plot devices.
Rupert Friend stars as fearless American reporter Thomas Anders, plucked and saved from the jaws of death while covering the war in Iraq by a Georgian Coalition of freedom fighters (of course this in no way influences his objectivity to the future events of the film) led by the valiant, heroic Rezo Avaliani (the always wonderful, underrated Johnathon Schaech who all but steals the film with his glowing performance and the most redeeming portrait in the film).
Anders then gathers a group of like-minded, dedicated journalists to cover the first flames of the conflict in Tbilisi, Georgia. Anders and his British cameraman, Sebastian Ganz (the incomparable Richard Coyle in an understated, moving performance) stop at a Georgian village to enjoy a beautiful, traditional wedding. During the innocent joy of the wedding celebration, a South Ossetian militia and mercenaries acting as agents of the Russian government stage an air strike, leaving a swath of death among the innocent villagers, all caught on the reporters’ video camera.
From there, Anders, Ganz, their colleagues, and several of the villager’s survivors, go on a mission to further film and document the violence and brutality of Russia against Georgia, and consequently get that information out to the rest of the world via the Human Rights Watch. The film crisscrosses to scenes of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (the always sterling Andy Garcia) and Harlin’s usual overuse of over the top explosions and overly graphic gore.
Writers Mikko Alanne and David Battle revert to every superhero film and Hollywood popcorn flick cliche, instead of crafting well written character development and narratives worthy of a film so intent on the gravitas of its history based purpose, intent, and message. The most over the top scene comes when Anders and Ganz are captured by Col. Demidov, leader of the South Ossetian militia and mercenaries aiding Russia (Rade Serbedzija in a near mustache twirling villainous performance chewing up the scenery, the tanks and the film).
In a scene played out from so many films owing to Sleuth and X-Men(only this film is again, based on the real life horrors of war and human rights issues) Col. Demidov engages Anders in a game of cat and mouse while playing chess. Spouting more psychological mind games than Hannibal Lecter with Clarice Starling, Demidov remains stoically calm and collected while vexing Anders with details of the journalist’s personal tragedies, deaths of loved ones, Anders’ failings.
Then, just as Demidov finally get to the point of his prey, which is that he must obtain the memory card for Ganz’s camera which contains the damning footage, we see Ganz about to be tortured by a heavily tattooed hulking henchman who displays his “instruments” at Ganz’s feet with hand rubbing delight.
And wouldn’t you know that just at that precise moment, in a scene straight out of every action popcorn flick, Rezo and his band of freedom fighters repel and crash through the window to save Anders and Ganz.
The film continues to descend into implausibility at the film’s climax, when the journalists are surrounded by enemy tanks and militia forces as Demidov, sitting perched atop his tank with guns pointed straight at Anders and his colleagues and without any reasonable explanation, develops a conscience, telling them that they are free to go. They go and then bravely share what they’ve witnessed with the world.
The President triumphantly declares Georgia’s freedom and independence as we at last, bear witness to Anders’ documentary newscast amid tearful testimonials from Georgian villagers. 5 Days Of War boasts stunning cinematography of the Georgian countryside where location filming took place, by former news cameraman and Director Of Photography Checco Varese.
While Harlin focuses all too much on the blunt force action, he also knows how to deftly use that camera and say a lot through understatement and subtlety. The scene where Anders wistfully eats an apple, gazing at the pastoral Georgian landscape, which is then starkly decimated by the encroachment of the Russian forces’ South Ossetian tanks, military helicopters, and militia, speaks volumes.
The wedding scene in which we see and hear the immense, richly textured music, dance, and culture of the people of Georgia, touches our hearts and resonates deep within our souls, rather than tearing at them with a heavy hand. Harlin would be best to have made the entirety of his film a more understated, crafted vision such as these two poignant, unforgettable scenes.
The always dazzling Trevor Rabin has truly outdone himself here, in composing the film’s transcendent score. Trevor, when discussing working on 5 Days Of War, in a 2010 Interview (at that time the film was titled, “Georgia”) said that “The subject matter is a real work of passion for me. It’s emotional, grave, and chaotic,” and in that Trevor succeeds just supremely with this soaring musical vision.
This much darker, somber score from Trevor is passionate, heart wrenching, emotionally stark and beautifully striking. His score more vividly and compellingly conveys the human condition and the tolls and anguish of war on humanity, than any dialogue throughout Harlin’s film. This is one of Trevor’s most mesmerizing and evocative scores and its subtle power and grace are just sublime.
Rabin’s lyrical music narrative is imbued with traditional Eastern European and Russian instrumentation, percussive rhythms, Balalaika textures, Saz, tabla, and Trevor’s eloquent strumming on guitar. The otherworldly composer’s lush orchestrations, crescendo & transform into his recurrent uplifting theme of heroism and valor. Trevor paints an immense sonic canvas of deep emotion, conviction, and feeling.
There are three key themes. One textured with beautifully melodic piano, one that is a Russian atmospheric violin motif, and another context darkly colored with cellos that are just exquisite in their haunting, elegiac, enigmatic vocabulary. What a breathtaking & deeply emotional score by Trevor.
5 Days Of War actually is quite entertaining fun, and an exhilarating action, war film with an inspiring storyline and ending, that might have been better suited for cable or Network TV. If it billed itself as only that, there wouldn’t be an issue. But it portends to depict fact based events and a semi-truthful resonant indictment of the Russian-Georgian War.
Instead, 5 Days Of War is steeped in one sided populist Hollywood propaganda, fueled by almost super hero theatricality concerning its central characters and storyline. Harlin might want to take heed from Director Michael Cimino who did much the same with 1978’s “The Deer Hunter”, which while a far superior written, directed, and acted film, still perpetrated Hollywood revisionist propaganda and a dangerously inaccurate altering of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, also to raging controversy.
Harlin indeed regards his subject matter with affection and thoughtfulness and may indeed mean well with 5 Days Of War.But playing with the facts, is playing with fire. When the truth is at stake, something the film’s courageous war correspondent characters hold so very dear, it is something that should always be honored and respected to a fault and heralded to the world with only the utmost care, accuracy, and conviction.
© Copyright August 18, 2011 By Arlene R. Weiss-All Rights Reserved