Oh Georgia, No Peace, No Peace I Find
8/8/08 does not resonate, nor have many noted Russian President Medvedev’s anniversary accusation of U.S. involvement in events precipitating the brief August 2008 war that stripped Georgia of ethnic South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Director/co-producer Renny Harlin’s 5 Days of War should remedy that, even if such notoriety would fly in the face of the major theme of this “inspired by true events” narrative, namely, that world media and attention are captured by flashy events like the concurrent Beijing Olympics at the expense of catastrophes in unfamiliar places.
The screenplay owes much to Under Fire, an unstinting pioneer in covering moral as well as political responsibilities of war correspondents who risk being shot for any reason or for no reason. Both films convey a realistic sense of being imbedded in actual danger, be it among ill-armed Nicaraguan irregulars or mechanized European mercenaries. Though not as good as that 1983 Roger Spottiswoode film, this new one is still superior to most others in jumpy realization of modern combat and outstandingly so in sound effects (by Christopher S. Aud and a long etcetera).
The scripted scenes are memorable, even more wrenching than the real thing in, for example, the documentary Restrepo. Outnumbered politically restrained defenders, farmers and city dwellers, wedding celebrants and displaced refugees are strafed, bombed and rocketed by jets and copters and cowed and killed by largely foreign mercenaries whose field leader mocks Moscow’s regulars as having no belly for butchery.
The storyline centers about the few media people who record the atrocities and put their necks on the block to get the news out to a world that has moved on to other spectacles. Whereas the UF Cassidy-Hackman-Nolte love interest is integrated into political-military concerns, here the romance seems artificial and tacked on.
Opening frames (resembling those of Restrepo) capture the 2007 Iraqi Shiite ambush from which Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) escapes but with the loss of his wife Miriam (Heather Graham). A “loose cannon” with no family, he is coaxed to Georgia by journalist Dutchman (a ballooned Val Kilmer). In Tbilisi he socializes with the small remaining press corps before setting off for where the action is with video sound- and cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) and reuniting with the national army captain Rezo Avaliani (Johnathon Schaech) who had pressed a St. Christopher medal on him in Iraq.
Awaiting their guide at a rural inn, the two journalists observe a joyous wedding feast, suddenly interrupted by an indiscriminate air strike. Among those few not maimed or killed is Tatia Meddevi (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a schoolteacher and sister of the bride, who is to be joined with the newsmen as they guide the tiny group of survivors to safety.
Sebastian’s images as they go along are nicely worked in as the digital-display center-boxed movie itself, which sees what the video lens sees. There is no demarcated front, while they dodge (and record) the brutality of Colonel Demidov’s (Rade Serbedzija) forces led by tattooed “Cossack” Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen) and seek somewhere to send out the incriminating documentation on a memory card.
Tatia-Anders animosity is standard stuff, not fooling an audience which knows that these two who have lost or will lose loved ones will find one another. Her New York college studies alienated her father but explain her English, which, however, still does not warrant her inclusion as translator. After a couple subtitle renderings, pretense is dropped, peasants and soldiers talk our language and a girl understands Anders’ hurried words and conveniently has a cellphone-camera at hand.
The single heroine is a convention long stuffed into action films, but a greater excrescence, one that has drawn online outrage, is the portrayal of Georgia as one-hundred-percent victim of its bullying neighbor to the north. Russia sent in troops, but Georgian President Shevardnadze had requested its help against South Ossetian and Abkhazanian rebels, while Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali ignited the film title’s war. Andy Garcia mugs it up as the new, noble President Saakashvili, who only wants peace and guarantors for his Transcaucasian republic. Then-Prime Minister Putin’s Russia is hardly the wronged innocent party it claims, but two-centuries-and-more of complications deserve a more enlightening, less overwhelmingly one-sided presentation.
5 Days of War wears its Georgian backing on its sleeve, though that cannot obscure its finely realized depiction of war today and of the civilians who suffer the not always “collateral” consequences.
(Released by Anchor Bay Films and rated "R" for strong bloody war violence and atrocities, and for pervasive language.)