Remember Renny Harlin? He was a go-to guy for big dumb action movies in the pre-Michael Bay era -- the director who made things blow up for the likes of Sylvester Stallone.
These days his name is reduced to a running gag on recent Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes.
Now, remember the Russian-Georgia war of 2008? Probably not, since it took place during the Olympics, and a powerhouse country invading a small neighbour was considered far less newsworthy than countries beating each other at beach volleyball.
Since the record is pretty much a clean slate (people were killed, that much we know), and the movie received financing from a Georgian film agency, Harlin is free to basically remake Red Dawn and do what he does best: blow stuff up. I'm sure this is the most pyro he's used in more than a decade.
Basically 5 Days of War is a popcorn movie for people itching to hate Russians again. These are old-school Cold War Russians (and Slavic mercenaries) who torture journalists, kneecap grandmothers and slaughter entire villages. Whatever brutality did occur in real life is done a disservice by this crass, sledgehammer treatment of a troubling international incident (troubling, because NATO and others showed little willingness to say boo to a belligerent Russia).
As has become a trope, this conflict is seen through the eyes of a couple of journalists (it's said to be "based" on a true story). Thomas and Sebastian (Rupert Friend and Richard Coyle) have been friends for years, and survived tragedy together (an opening-scene ambush in Iraq, seen in flashback, which kills Thomas's fellow journalist girlfriend).
Years later, burying himself in his work, Thomas smells trouble a'brewin' in Georgia and heads out with Sebastian to meet near the Russian border with an operative named The Dutchman (Val Kilmer, paying off those tax bills). No sooner are they apprised that the whole thing's about to blow up, than it does. The village is strafed, and a wedding in their hotel is bombed. It's here that the English speakers are lucky enough to meet Tatia, an American-schooled sister-of-the-bride (Emmanuelle Chriqui) who allows Thomas and Sebastian to join her father and sister on the run. Occasionally, they get an assist from Capt. Reza (Johnathon Schaech), an old NATO pal from Thomas's Iraq days, as the Georgian troops fight on stalwartly.
The most jarring scene cuts in 5 Days of War occur when the scene shifts to the presidential palace in Tsiblisi, where president Saakashvili (Andy Garcia, seriously) rants repeatedly about being abandoned by his NATO allies.
This is as much as we ever learn about how the Russia-Georgia standoff happened. What is the deal with South Ossetia? Who has claim to it? Why did the conflict really end?
It doesn't matter. A war is a war is a war. And Renny Harlin knows that, besides pyro, a war movie needs uncluttered terrain with clear-cut good guys and bad guys. The whys and hows are for documentarians. More Movie Reviews