Saturday, March 03, 2012

Five Days of War

From the Front Line

Five Days of August has been renamed Five Days of War outside of Georgia (despite the print at the start of the end credits proudly displaying the former), undoubtedly capitalizing on its predominant war fighting segments to help market the film, based upon real incidents that took place during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War during the said period in which parts of Georgia got occupied by the Russians, shrewdly planned during the time when the rest of the world was distracted by the Beijing Olympics. Directed by Renny Harlin from a story by David Battle, Five Days of August is a film that pays tribute to war correspondents and journalists who have given their lives in search for the truth, being caught in crossfires and the likes to bring to the world footage, photographs and reports from various war fronts, often with minimal protection.

The film opens in Iraq with what would almost be found-footage, introducing to us the protagonists of journalist Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) and cameraman Sebastian (Richard Coyle), partners in many experiences around the globe bringing war stories to their networks. As with most openings this segment was important to establish character motivations, to showcase and set the audience expectations that no stops will be pulled to feature military hardware, as well as to touch upon its political subplot that while Georgia had joined and volunteered to the USA's coalition of the willing in the Iraqi campaign, the reverse isn't so true when Georgia herself required help from the West in which she's trying to align herself to, irking the Russians whose waning influence had triggered an invasion in August 2008 (or so the film will have it put).

With a potential war brewing, Anders and Sebastian find their way to Georgia, and as the trailer would have outlined the plot already, get caught up in a wedding and picked up some locals including Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui in a role to look pretty and contribute nothing more), getting some incriminating footage from the spoils of war and the inhumane crimes against humanity committed by Russian mercenaries contracted for handsome sums to lead the invasion, and spend the entire second half of the film protecting the yet to be uploaded evidence on a memory card. For convenience of dramatization purposes, they hook up with Georgian troops led by the same group of men who hauled their arses out of Iraq, as well as demonizing the better equipped Russians led by Col Alexandr Demidov (Rade Serbedzija) of a militia out to slaughter and plunder.

Five Days of August is like a collaborative project by those forgotten by Hollywood, to make a shout out that they're still relevant for a decent paycheck. Renny Harlin was once the darling of Tinseltown, having directed blockbusters like Clffhanger and Die Hard 2, but alas in recent years have faded, but not into obscurity yet. Here he shows why he's still capable of being at the helm of a complex, large scaled movie consisting of a spectrum of genres straddling between political squabbling through the behind the scenes cabinet meetings of the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, played by Andy Garcia. Garcia puts on a thick accent to play a very spirited president rallying his troops and countrymen to form a resistance against the invading force, with a very questionable deference to a US advisor played by Dean Cain. The has been Superman teams up with one time Batman Val Kilmer, although not sharing the same scenes, with the latter playing Dutchman, yet another journalist who appears a total of not more than 10 minutes. Even lesser screen time was given to Heather Graham, who got only the prologue.

It felt documentary at times, although like most documentaries is fairly subjective in the way it wanted to tell its story. Having themselves funded in the production by the Georgians would clearly mean a portrayal that's one sided and natural to be putting the other party of a conflict in worst light than oneself. With cooperation, it meant having the means to feature plenty of military hardware, from choppers to fighter jets and scores of tanks in armoured battalions, in order to boost production values. Not to mention soldiers and crack forces too, with an incredibly lean and thin platoon supporting our protagonists from point to point, appearing when called upon for plot conveniences which took the shine off a narrative, making the second half of the film very much like a standard war action flick with one side seen to be winning little skirmishes. It's very obvious propaganda through and through.

Still it served up enough to play out like an average war film, highlighted with a fairly wobbly focus on journalists and the risk and sacrifices they have to go through in order to bring the best coverage from conflict zones. It doesn't serve up any surprises and throws in the expected basic romance under intense circumstances, but those expecting a more engaging film about the Russo-Georgia conflict of 2008 may have to wait for another movie to come along instead.

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