5 Days of War

Carol van Opstal

ANCHOR BAY DISTRIBUTION: The 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia is given the Hollywood treatment in this hackneyed drama directed by Renny Harlin.
5 Days of War
The 2008 Beijing Olympics all but eclipsed media coverage about the Russian invasion of Georgia.

Understandably, the Georgian government had some input into the production of a dramatic feature set during this volatile period, which opens with a cogent quote from the early 20th century, attributed to American politician Hiram Johnson: that the first casualty of war is the truth.

It’s important to note, however, that 5 Days of War is a fictionalised drama. Principally revolving around war correspondents, it provides a subjective experience of the Russian-Georgian conflict, from an outsider’s perspective.

The problem is its sheer predictability and reliance on trite plot devices, such as the opening scene, whose conclusion is obvious from the outset. The inclusion of a love interest is not only unnecessary, but emphasises the formulaic approach to a story that could, and should, have had more impact. The camaraderie between the correspondents themselves, however, provides some interest.

The battle scenes have an epic feel about them, and the film overall is perhaps a little too polished: in one scene, a woman who’s been killed is seen lying on a stretcher, looking more like Sleeping Beauty than a corpse; the sporadic appearance of a stunning war photographer who is woefully one-dimensional, as well as the Georgian love interest’s cosmetically enhanced eyelashes and painfully straightened hair, suggest undue attention to eye candy, detracting from the film’s emotional veracity.

What’s more, we are told that the love interest (Tatia, played by Emanuelle Chruiqui) has studied in America, but that doesn’t excuse the western accent strongly detectable when she speaks in her supposedly native tongue.

There are some stunning shots in the film, and while this is undoubtedly Renny Harlin’s most sophisticated film to date (previous films include Die Hard 2, and Nightmare on Elm Street 4), it lacks the grittiness and complexity of more satisfying contemporary war films.

Critics have tended to lean favourably towards this film, presumably because of its subject matter: a military conflict that was largely overlooked by the rest of the world. The story, some of the cast, and the special effects are likely to attract a wider audience than other recent and more notable war dramas (Lebanon, Waltz with Bashir), but audiences who are accustomed to more compelling dramas set during wartime, exploring moral and emotional ambivalences, are likely to sense, and be disappointed by, the hackneyed, blockbuster treatment.

Rating: Three stars

5 Days of War
Written by Mikko Alanne and David Battle
Directed by Renny Harlin
Production Design: Mark-Greville-Masson Soundtrack: Trevor Rabin Stars: Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andie Garcia, Emanuelle Chriqui

Now showing in selected cinemas

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Carol van Opstal is a Melbourne-based writer, film critic, and commentator. In addition to producing and presenting Screenthemes (a film and screen media, music, news and information program on 3MBS 103.5fm each Saturday at 4pm) she writes DVD reviews for Screenthemes (www.screenthemes.org) and hosts film Q&As.