Even before there was a Michael Bay, Renny Harlin
was Michael Bay.
Known in the 1990s for his slam-bang action thrillers –
low on characterization but high on explosions – Harlin was one of the
biggest names in Hollywood for a brief, hot period. The Finnish director
was behind the camera on several big hits (and quite a few duds) including
Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The
Adventures of Ford Fairlane. He was part of a Hollywood power couple –
stealing Geena Davis away from Jeff Goldblum during her Oscar years.
Then it all started to fall apart, when his pirate
swashbuckler Cutthroat Island (starring Davis) became a historic
bomb: literally the biggest money loss on a film ever. Harlin’s
career and marriage survived that bump in the road with the cult-ish hit
The Long Kiss Goodnight (also starring Davis), but Hollywood
never totally regained its trust in the auteur (nor did Davis, who
left him in 1998). After the decent Deep Blue Sea in 1999, Harlin
descended into a career funk – his biggest titles of the new millennium have
been the awesomely bad prequel Exorcist: The Beginning (in fairness,
he was brought in late to save a doomed project which had already been
fumbled by Paul Schrader) and 12 Rounds, a vanity production for WWE
wrestler John Cena.
Apparently Harlin felt that what his career needed was
a down and dirty career change-up a la his old contemporary Kathryn
Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.
Sad to say, 5 Days of War is not Harlin’s
Hurt Locker. But it is one of his better films in quite some time.
Faint praise, I know, but at least you feel Harlin is trying to say
something again, which is something. Even in his best days, he was
never as skilled a filmmaker as Bigelow.
5 Days of War is a look at the brief, but very
violent 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. It is told very much from the
point of view of the Georgians – and I can’t claim to know enough about the
particular war to know if the movie is indeed giving the whole story. It
should be noted, though, that some of the money used to finance the film is
from Georgian backers, so it might be somewhat biased. Then again, it may
be completely accurate. Again, I can’t pretend to know for sure.
The story is about two international journalists for
CNN (Rupert Friend and Richard Coyle). After surviving a deadly booby trap
attack in Iraq (interestingly, the character played by Heather Graham, who
gets fourth billing here, is killed off in the very first scene) the guys
are sent to Georgia to look into some unrest – and turn out to be the only
journalists around when the country is attacked by Russia.
The journalists capture the only footage of the Russian
troops and planes wantonly killing civilians and bombing neighborhoods.
Then they must find a way to get the footage out to the world – a world that
apparently doesn’t care about the atrocities – while avoiding the Russian
soldiers determined to kill them.
There is some very fine war footage here (if
occasionally overdone – Renny Harlin can’t help doing everything with an
exclamation point). It is scary and disturbing and if it does paint an
accurate picture of the skirmish then the Russian government does have some
explaining it needs to do.
In the meantime, they periodically cut away to a very
sober-looking Andy Garcia as the President of Georgia, who spouts speeches
about saving his people.
Also looking a bit awkwardly out of place is Val
Kilmer, who pops up periodically as a heavily-drinking war correspondent who
makes metaphors about toothless whores just a bit too much for comfort.
However, it is the war footage that will get any real
notice and which saves this slightly muddled film from cliché. 5 Days of
War is not a classic war drama of the likes of Hurt Locker or
something like Platoon, but it is heartfelt and mostly compelling.
It’s certainly a hell of a lot better than Michael Bay
would have done with the same material.
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: August 19, 2011.