5 Days Of War
Wars have always been a very fertile ground for literature and subsequently cinema. There is no disputing the fact that this is one of the most destructive and heinous activities that our species engages. With this understood war is such a prime foundation for telling an intense story for the very same factors that makes it so despicable. It is an ideal cauldron to depict the most intense, raw emotions a person can experience. We make like to think of ourselves as enlightened beyond the need for this exceptionally violent means of conflict resolution but it perpetually fascinates at least on an individual level. A cursory consideration of video games, novels and films will reinforce the proposition that audiences are intrigued by tales of armed combat. There is no shortage of wars to use as settings. This has held true throughout the annals history there has never been any significant period of time devoid of war. The one employed as the foundation for the film under review here, ‘5 Days of War’, is the Russo-Georgian war fought in 2008. This modern example of war does have the effect of distancing the story from a period piece to better concentrate on the socio-political implications behind the conflict and the resulting human based drama. The film is flawed on the technical level but in a fashion this worked in light of the thematic thrust of the story. War is not neat or well ordered; it is messy and fraught with imperfection. The missteps of this film reflect this in a way that a more polished work could not. Movies serve as a mirror to reflect the foibles of our society and in a case like this it wouldn’t be honest of the filmmaker to craft a perfect mirror to represent such a faulty set of circumstances. A war film should be rough around the edges and gritty in content. ‘5 Days in War’, also referred to as ‘5 Days in August’, is an account of one man’s experience in a war being fought far from his own home. This point of view requires the facts of the situation be filtered through his personal experience and opinions. This movie is not intended to be a straight forward historically accurate account; it is a diary of a man’s intense albeit brief journey through war.
Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) is an American journalist. At the opening of the film he just returned to the States but as a freelance correspondent he is perpetually searching for his next story. His return back home followed the lost of fellow American Journalist and girlfriend Miriam (Heather Graham), who was killed in Iraq but when he hears about the escalating conflict in Soviet Georgia from friends in the capital city of Tbilisi he decides to go back into the fray. With his usually inebriated cameraman, Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) Thomas sets off to document the effect of the increasing hostilities on the Georgian citizen. Life goes on no matter what and a neighborhood is celebrating a wedding when suddenly Russian helicopters instigate an air strike annihilating the non combatants present. The pair of Americans are rescued by a Georgian soldier Thomas previous encountered in Iraq. What had begun as a fairly simple look at the effects war has on the indigenous population has morphed into an exposé of Russian atrocities and war crimes. The mission at hand has become one of survival with the stakes radically increased to get back home to bear witness to the world concerning the inhumanity of the situations the encountered. The heighten emotions can frequently result in fundamentally positive feelings to surface. In this instance Thomas strives to reaffirm life by forming a relationship with a local woman serving as his translator, Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Together they form a small group of refugees desperately seeking a way out of the combat zone.
The directorial style of Renny Harlin is open to more interpretation than typically is afforded a film like this. On one hand the disjointed presentation does reflect the chaos inherent in war but it does make following the narrative of the story more difficult than it should be, many war films have managed to tell a story of an intrinsically disorganized situation without losing sight of the importance of a solid core storyline. Harlin is certainly no stranger to action driven films, in fact many are exceptionally well done. His expansive resume includes ‘Die Hard 2’, ‘Cliffhanger’ and ‘Deep Blu Sea’. The major qualitative difference is each of those films was pure action flicks were the emotional content is not as important to success as the explosions and gun fights. I don’t recall ever hear of heated debates over John McClane’s emotional journey as he defined the snowy airport. Here Thomas’s state of mind and his emotional investment in the circumstances is paramount to understanding the impetus of the film. I applaud Harlin’s move to expand his creative range and greatly anticipate other films in this vein. However, he is not there yet; he is on a learning curve to embrace change in style. Part of this is to increase the focus on the human side of the equation. The action is here and well done but the story gets lost; a victim to a confusion that permeates the movie.
Another contributing factor lies in the screenplay by Mikko Alanne. His experience is predominantly in short documentaries mostly in socially relevant subjects. The facts of the atrocities are well presented but there was little here to humanize the story. The character development is virtually nonexistent, about on par with the scaffolding that passes for scripts in big budget action movies. the audience is pulled into caring about Thomas and the people of Soviet Georgia but the ultimate feeling is that the audience was left hanging, emotionally unsatisfied. The story is one that is important, far more vital to humanity than rampaging alien robots or vampire romances but the truth gets stuck in the mire.