‘5 Days of War’ – Review

"5 Days of War struggles with balancing a legitimate message and telling a straightforward story about the journalists who cover these war zones."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

If nothing else, 5 Days of War gets bonus points for not being about the conflict in the Middle East. We’ve been deluged with Hurt Lockers and The Messengers and Lions for Lambses over the last few years, and no matter how good they are audiences don’t seem to respond because, hey, it’s on TV every day. I don’t think it’s fair to call us callous for this, at least not all of us. In addition to the simple tendency to value variety in our entertainment, even high-minded entertainment, I think many of us are just sick of being preached to. Sometimes I think the reason The Hurt Locker won all those Academy Awards had less to do with it being an excellent movie, and more to do with it being an excellent movie about the Iraq conflict that didn’t have a message to sell.

Renny Harlin’s new film 5 Days of War struggles with balancing a legitimate message – that all kinds of bloody conflicts occur throughout the world every day, but don’t get enough media attention – and telling a straightforward story about the journalists who cover these war zones. It’s a noble effort, and not a bad film, but despite a genuinely touching finale with personal testimonials from Georgians who lost loved ones in the Russo-Georgian War, it doesn’t entirely resonate. Pacing issues and occasionally hokey plotting get in the way.

The first half of the film follows war correspondent Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) as he travels to Georgia to cover the conflict over disputed territory with Russia. Anders is an embittered man, racked with guilt over the loss of a peer and lover in the Middle East. That pain drives him, but Rupert Friend – so good in Young Victoria – might be a little too young for the part. It’s hard to accept that his baby-faced good looks mask the horrors seen by a hard-boiled journalist behind enemy lines. But he does the best he can, which is more-or-less fine, until the plot finally kicks in. Anders and his cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle) capture footage of Russian war crimes, and are immediately on the run from hostile forces in a frantic effort to release the footage… that nobody even cares about.

It’s in the second half that 5 Days of War really finds its footing, as the enemies close in, the news cycle (distracted by the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics) willfully ignores important facts and Renny Harlin’s action pedigree keeps the movie pumping along at a rigorous pace. Were it not for an unfortunate tendency to cop out on major plot points (last minute saves and miraculous rescues are all too prevalent), 5 Days of War would go down as a slightly-flawed but admirable war movie. As it stands, well… I’ve already called it a noble effort.

Something about 5 Days of War just doesn’t feel lived in. Efforts are made in specific scenes to flesh out the Georgian world, like a wedding sequence that ends in bloodshed, but it still feels rather insular. Anders’ co-correspondents include such faces as Val Kilmer and Antje Traue of Man of Steel, and their dialogue together implies a journalistic world more complicated, jaded and thrill-seeking than 5 Days of War ever quite shows us. A movie about war correspondents is an excellent idea, but without a truly deft touch, and with a tendency to fall back on war movie clichés, 5 Days of War never quite achieves that. And frequent cuts to Andy Garcia as the Georgian president, frantically and almost impotently seeking American or European support for his country, never quite tie in to the movie proper. Context may have been necessary, but in the end the day is saved from outside forces, not Anders or his peers, making the actual plot seem like an exercise in futility.

One could argue that this is the point – that everything war-related is deemed pathetically meaningless because it distracts from our light entertainment – but the message is at turns delivered with too much subtlety or not nearly enough, and the result is simply a scattershot film.