5 Days of War: Film Review

Flimsy dramatization of Russia/Georgia conflict fails both as historical re-enactment and as action-flick thrill ride.

Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle and Emmanuelle Chriqui star in director Renny Harlin's dramatization of the Russia/Georgia conflict.

NEW YORK — Historical propaganda by way of action-flick bombast, 5 Days of War purports to focus on the self-sacrifice of war correspondents but is really a clunky effort to rewrite 2008's brief Russia/Georgia conflict in black and white terms. Director Renny Harlin applies the subtle sensibility of Die Hard 2 to the tale of journos dodging gunfire to get "the truth" to the public; Salvador it ain't. Box office prospects are dim with audiences lacking a vested interest in the subject.

The producers, including a Georgian company with access to government palaces and military hardware, appear to believe that recruiting Hollywood faces would help get their message heard in foreign lands. But Georgia's GDP is about a hundredth of its rival's: Where Russia might have recruited A-listers, this version of the drama suffers from a largely past-its-prime cast and crew.

Most awkward here is Andy Garcia, struggling beneath an unplaceable accent as Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. But the movie's focus is out in South Ossetian villages, where combat-numbed reporter Thomas (Rupert Friend) and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle) have just stumbled across an atrocity committed by invading Russian troops. Having filmed the slaughter of a wedding party, they must hang onto the camera's memory card long enough to convince Western news agencies to broadcast it.

If the problem (not borne out by actual newscasts at the time) is that Americans refused to look at Georgian troubles, Harlin's solution is to present them using all the hackneyed devices U.S. moviegoers have been paying to watch for decades: Here, fireballs send cars tumbling through the air, slow-motion massacres are paired with heavy-handed scores and the two warring sides — chiseled Georgian soldiers fighting tattooed, grubby Russian rogues — might as well be wearing white and black cowboy hats.

A couple of the film's action beats, like a last-minute rescue in which Georgians smash through the window on rappelling ropes, may actually prompt laughter in the theater, but even moments that aren't unintentionally comic demean real-life suffering with shallow bombast.

An unconvincing human-interest subplot has Thomas protecting massacre survivor Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Thomas is supposed to be haunted by the death of an old lover (Heather Graham, appearing in flashback just long enough to get shot), but Friend's performance is more flat than wounded, and viewers may cringe at cues that the movie intends to wring romance out of his encounter with Tatia.

Failing romance, they'll have to be satisfied with relationships between reporters and photographers (including Val Kilmer, whose character has eaten too many press-lounge bagels) who may have their cynical banter down pat but rarely exhibit the kind of inquisitive and dogged intelligence it takes to survive in a war zone.

Opened: Friday, Aug. 19 (Anchor Bay)
Production Companies: Georgia International Films, Dispictures, Rex Media
Cast: Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Heather Graham, Johnathon Schaech, Mikko Nousiainen, Mikheil Gomiashvili, Ani Imnadze, Andy Garcia, Val Kilmer
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenwriters: Mikko Alanne, David Battle
Producers: George Lascu, Mirza Papuna Davitaia, Koba Nakopia, Renny Harlin
Executive producers: Michael P. Flannigan, Giorgi Gelovani, David Imedashvili, Cyndy Kuipers
Director of photography: Checco Varese
Production designer: Marc Greville-Masson
Music: Trevor Rabin
Costume designer: Elvis Davis
Editor: Brian Berdan
Rated R, 112 minutes