As some might be able to figure out from my personality, I tend to stay away from political and war type movies. Political movies (except for the special ones) tend to confuse the viewer until the final curtain is drawn. War movies on the other hand tend to be more about explosions and male bonding which is usually enough to put me to sleep. What happens when you combine the two of them? Well then you might get a movie like 5 Days of War directed by the one and only Renny Harlin .
Hiram Johnson, a US Senator once said that “The first casualty of war is truth.” We join the movie in Iraq, year circa 2007. Thomas Anders (played by Rupert Friend) is an American reporter. He is riding along with his camerman, Sebastian Ganz (played by Richard Coyle) and his fellow reporter/girlfriend, Miriam (played by Heather Graham). Sebastian is recording the two and asking them all sorts of relationship type questions.
All of the sudden, gunfire erupts and the jeep is struck down. Iraqi insurgents continue to fire at the vehicle while Thomas tries to keep Miriam safe. Eventually, help comes to the reporters and they drive away the enemy. But unfortunately, Miriam is not so unlucky and is dead. Thomas beside himself weeps uncontrollably as he sees medics place her body in a body bag. End scene, and we rejoin Thomas one year later in Los Angeles. On the television the headline reads: “South Osseta Shootings Heighten Georgia Tension”.
Thomas talks to a fellow reporter known as the “Dutchman” (played by Val Kilmer) via computer video conferencing. (Val can be seen with nothing but a smile in the tub, it is not a pretty picture). Dutchman invites Thomas to Russia to participate in a huge story. Thomas takes along his trusty camerman, Sebastian and they are off to Russia. Before they get there, we are introduced to Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili (played by Andy Garcia).
The president speaks about the Russian and Osseta threats to his country. In our next scene, we see Thomas, Sebastian, Dutchman and fellow reporters, Zoe (played by Antje Traue) and Michael Stilton (played by Kenneth Carnham) enjoying some dinner and drinks at a local Russian watering hole. Thomas and Sebastian are looking to cross over the border into Georgia as soon as possible to capture some coverage.
Unfortunately, on the way to the Georgia border, Sebastian is having some problems with his stomach and has to purge himself…frequently. This forces Thomas and Sebastian to take refuge at a local eatery along the border. There they lay witness to a beautiful wedding with much eating and dancing. Sebastian taking an interest in it films the proceedings. But danger is on the way as Russian troops are entering Georgia. Soon gunfire erupts on this peaceful scene.
The people try to take cover as explosions erupt all over this tiny location. Unfortunately, people are murdered as causalities pile up. Thomas and Sebastian along with the help of a local girl named Tatia (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui) try to do their best to tend to the injured. They are eventually able to take them to the local military hospital which is now very crowded due to the onslaught.
But thankfully, Sebastian has footage and Thomas wants to go public. There is just one problem, nobody is willing to show the footage due to the Bejing Olympics. Worse yet, it appears everybody is taking the Russian’s side in this brutal affair. Meanwhile, Tatia wants to go find her family in Georgia. Thomas and Sebastian tag along as they descend deeper into the hot zone. Can they ever make it out alive and expose the truth that they witness today and in the days to come?
The movie is based on actual events. There was uprising in 2008 between Georgia and South Ossetia and some of that comes to light here. However, this is a complete dramatization and there are little in the way of facts here. That aside, the film has a decent array of characters, mostly a who’s who of A-/B+ list type actors. We have Val Kilmer, Heather Graham, Andy Garcia and even Dean Cain who plays a secretary to Garcia’s character. They do a decent enough job to establish their niche characters.
Richard Coyle’s Sebastian is probably the most memorable role here. He has a certain charisma and steals most of the scenes he is in. However, the main actor, Rupert Friend gets lost in most of the scenes he is in and then when he shows up, it’s hard for the audience to particularly like him. He’s overly cold and appears wooden until the bitter end when it is too late to establish a last minute bridge between himself and the audience. There is another problem here too in the direction.
Renny Harlin is infamous for over the top action, look no further than Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2. When I say this movie has explosions, expect them to come frequently and with strength. It is almost distracting to a point. I do understand that this is intended as a war movie, but it is not a classic battle by battle picture. Instead, there is growth here but the film fails to capture this by making sure that the viewer is enveloped in the next high action explosion where people fear for their lives.
The video is in 2.40:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. Believe it or not, a lot of this footage was actually shot in Georgia (Russia) and even in the state capital’s office. The country side (when explosions aren’t all around the people) is quite picturesque and I admit it was a little heartbreaking to see it crumble when the gunfire started. Color is great here and fleshtones seem to be spot on. The defects (which mostly resulted from the action going on) are very minimal and should not detract at all.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 English TrueHD track (Spanish Mono also included). The audio track is equally strong. Explosions are numerous here (as one would expect with Renny at the controls) and the echo of gunfire and shrapnel will reverberate through your speakers, all of them. The best thing though is that the audio is balanced. When it shifts to dialog (sometimes in the middle of an action sequence), it is clear, even Andy Garcia’s really odd Russian accent. Subtitles are included for English SDH and Spanish.
- Automatic Trailers: The Son of No One (looks to be decent) and Texas Killing Fields.
- Audio Commentary: The director, Renny Harlin is your host for this commentary. This is actually a decent track with Renny being friendly and engaging with the intended audience. There is a great deal of production notes here as well as some history on the Russian/Georgian war. One of the few commentaries these days that does exactly what it is supposed to do.
- Deleted Scenes 11:00: Six scenes are included here (could be more depending on how you divide the last one). These occur all before the reporters cross the border into Georgia. Most of these would fall into the realm of time cuts, however there were some assorted takes that would have possibly changed Anders character. However, it might have also made me more interested in his character, so I guess it is a wash.
- Trailer 2:21: The trailer. The badly out of order trailer. It didn’t used to bother me, but now I have a real issue with trailers that go way out of chronological order when showing “clips” from the movie.
As one might expect from the intended subject matter and the infamous tag “Based on actual events”, critics were somewhat harsh on this movie. In fact, some organizations have called this film a giant piece of Georgian propaganda. It doesn’t help the film when the ending has a bunch of Georgian people with photographs talking about the loved ones they lost as a result of the five day war. However, if you evaluate this film at a base level and try to eliminate fact, there is some enjoyment to be had.
This mostly has to do with the massive amount of explosions and credible acting from most of the cast. The only disappointment had to do in the form of Rupert Friend who is probably better suited for British thespian type film than American action films. He is never likable enough for the audience to enjoy. The disc at least serves as a good experience for those who do enjoy the film. If one can appreciate the actual film rather than trying to connect the truth, I can give the film a slight recommendation. Otherwise, we will probably want to avoid this one save for a lonely rental night.