5 Days of War was directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), written by Mikko Alanne (The 33, The Long Road Home) and David Battle, and stars Rupert Friend (Starred Up, At Eternity’s Gate), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Super Troopers 2, Entourage), Richard Coyle (Coupling, Pusher), Rade Serbedzija (X-Men: First Class, Scene of the Crash), Johnathon Schaech (Marauders, Arsenal), Andy Garcia (The Godfather: Part III, Big Gold Brick), and Val Kilmer (Song to Song, Willow). It follows a group of people caught in the crossfire of the south Osettia War who seek to escape with imagery concerning the evils committed during the conflict.
The Plot: No shortage of noble ideas reside in the basis for 5 Days of War; bringing the most stressful extreme of journalistic endeavours to the forefront of a narrative isn’t an easy task as it requires a balance of accuracy and invention to frame a compelling story; a task the movie fails upwards at.
With conflict bubbling up in Georgia and a message from the country’s president Saakashvili (Garcia) asking for assistance from whoever may listen to it, journalist Thomas (Friend) gets an offer from Dutchman (Kilmer) to take his work to the eastern European country and showcase what’s going on. Though the script feigns some level of understanding, it becomes clear that Alanne and Battle didn’t have their hearts set on finding reasons why Russia was pushing so hard on its neighbour, and by the end, nothing remedies this illness of the script. Nonetheless, Thomas and cameraman Sebastian (Coyle) make their way overseas and find themselves in the midst of a massacre ordered by Russian Colonel Demidov (Serbedzija).
A red wedding ensues, with attendant Tatia (Chriqui) tagging along to escape the violence. Despite its pretenses, the movie doesn’t do much different from the typical spectacle pictures of Hollywood, pushing aside revelatory findings for the more generic “go there, do that” destination of uploading footage to the internet for the world to see. On their way to do so, they encounter Georgian soldier Avaliani (Schaech), who escorts the civilians through the warzone the best that he can.
With this being the sole task of the story, along with an insipid subplot making Demidov the top of the conflict, 5 Days of War has an acceptable course, but one that lacks clarity and originality beyond its topic.
The Characters: Alanne and Battle reuse the same old personalities to make their main characters and seem to go out of their way to create cartoons as side characters. Overboard on both ends, the characters are largely a wash.
Thomas is a typical Hollywood journalist. Haunted by his recent foray into Iraq in which his love interest was shot by terrorist forces, he wants to make things right by exposing the truth to the west, who he (rightly) calls out for being insulated from the realities of the world. His morality isn’t in question, as he tries to help even whoever he can even when his life is at risk and is willing to die if it means that the causes he supports can be seen by global eyes.
What doesn’t sit well is the romance that’s forced between Thomas and Tatia, who don’t share any chemistry or even that much time in each other’s presence aside from the botched wedding. Any development is minute, with Tatia a foreign exchange student who wants to be a teacher being the most we get about her. Sebastian fares slightly better than either of the aforementioned two since he’s the more proactive of the press duo, always making calls and capturing footage while trying to steel himself with a dry sense of humour. It’s Coyle’s performance that rings truer than his co-stars, making him a more compelling hero.
Others like Dutchman are just hyperbolic versions of money-hungry adrenaline junkies, the Russians are scarred, tattooed maniacs and the Georgian president is the sole voice of reason in the conflict. Everyone is just too narrow for the good of the movie.
The Action: While there’s a sense of drama at its heart, 5 Days of War is an action flick through and through, utilizing a sense of chaos and malice that, while sometimes landing with the emotional impact it so desperately seeks, are better able to be marvelled at in a brainless way.
Opening with Thomas and Sebastian’s time in Iraq, Harlin has a scene in which the reporters are trying to make their way back to a green zone, only to be fired upon by militants for no good reason, taking out two of the four noncombatants in the vehicle in brutal fashion. This type of visual permeates 5 Days of War, which peaks early at its wedding sequence in which the ceremony comes to a bleak end in a flash. Brief moments of well-staged violence like this get the point across without feeling exploitative or manipulative, which makes their fleeting appearances in 5 Days of War a disappointment.
For large parts of the remainder of 5 Days of War, it’s action scene after action scene that largely seeks to draw excitement out of pyrotechnics and escape plans. For every sobering moment that creates a sense of immersion within a bloody feud like the execution of civilians and a member of Tatia’s family eager to save his own skin at the cost of injury to the journalists, there’s a tradeoff like an improbable escape from Demidov’s clutches that has a laughable deus ex machina of Georgian special forces rappelling in through windows at just the right time to save them all.
Highlights are present, with a resounding majority of the setpieces being practical in every sense, with excellent pyrotechnical work, real squibs, and a load of destruction aptly illustrating the physical cost of a battle like this, but all of this can’t make up for inconsistencies littering the feature.
The Technics: Harlin’s penchant for high-octane actioners makes him an odd choice to take the reigns over a film meant to bring awareness to something more tangible than anything his previous efforts represent. It’s, again, a noble pursuit, but probably not the best choice if the subpar outcome is anything to go by.
With numerous outings and few that have been able to capture emotion, it’s not much of a surprise that the director leans on his crew to make up for the lapses. However, they don’t do many favours, with annoying musical choices by Trevor Rabin (Max, Coach Carter), who never lets a potentially impactful moment do the talking instead of his score (which isn’t bad by any means) and editing by Brian Berdan (Auggie Rose, Nixon) who manages to nudge scenes the wrong way with slow motion deaths and explosions, and occasional jump cuts that don’t add anything. The only main piece of the puzzle that never slips up is cinematographer Checco Varese (The 33, Dust to Dust), who does a great job of maintaining a docudrama feel.
Grey, despite being the most prevalent colour in the palette, isn’t anywhere to be found in the tone of 5 Days of War, which is so one-sided that it almost manages to make the death of innocents laughable. The Russians get evil musical cues, take pictures holding puppies they’re about to kill, set civilians on fire, and so forth, without a single wink at the camera. Lest we forget, most of the producers of the movie are Georgian, and the real conflict was pushed by the good ol’ U.S. of A since 2003, making the agenda plenty clear before the movie begins.
5 Days of War is a movie that only works every other scene, as its mediocre characters go through an uninspired plot that does get to show off the horrors of war and make some genuine statements about the world, but fumbles as often as it succeeds thanks to its simultaneous dishonesty about its subject.