Riveting --- a word that is so overused, and yet, it's exactly the right word to describe "5 Days of War". From the opening statement informing us that 500 journalists had been killed covering wars since 2000, to the ensuing harrowing sequence in Iraq, this film produces an all-too-real look at what these men and women experience while covering various conflicts worldwide.
The title "5 Days of War" refers to the short but violent war between Russia and the GeorgianRepublic in 2008. American journalist Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) is drawn into action, along with his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle), by his longtime buddy, Dutchman (Val Kilmer), who is already on the ground in Georgia.
It has been a year since the brutal ambush in Iraq in which Anders' girlfriend and fellow journalist, Miriam (Heather Graham), was killed. Searching for a new story, Anders and Sebastian take off for the Georgian border village of Viziana. While waiting for their guide at a local taverna, Sebastian is filming a small wedding in progress, when out of the night sky bombs begin falling. Anders rescues Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the sister of the bride, who becomes their interpreter as they negotiate their way throughout this war-torn countryside.
Director Renny Harlin has masterminded a nerve-jangling, realistic expose of the horrors of war. Heartbreaking devastation is everywhere, presided over by a maniacal Russian colonel named Demidov (Rade Serbedzija) and his equally despicable henchmen. These men are vicious, sadistic killers, who show no mercy when it comes to their Georgian neighbors.
The action is extremely fast-paced and non-stop. The only reprieve from the constant bombings and battles comes in the form of Andy Garcia portraying Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. However, the scenes at the presidential headquarters are still fraught with tension and disappointment as Saakashvili is rebuffed by foreign leaders the world over as he pleads for assistance. Even Anders and Sebastian can get no one nor any news outlet to run their damning footage of the atrocities taking place.
Friend and Coyle are first rate as friends and co-workers caught in this nightmare behind enemy lines. We never doubt that they care about one another and would ultimately give their lives to save each other.
Garcia is a little over the top as the frustrated president, but perhaps that's exactly the way the real president dealt with this dilemma. Kilmer is quite delightful as the comic relief, though the story could have used more of him. And whoever chose Dean Cain to play Chris Bailot, American press secretary to President Saakashvili, should be shot. He added nothing to this film --- in fact, he was a detraction.
Harlin made a wise decision to use Checco Varese as his Director of Photography. As a veteran news cameraman, he has a wealth of experience shooting war zones which translated brilliantly to this film.
But Harlin's choice of epilogue gave me pause. "5 Days of War" is a difficult film to watch. By closing the movie with real victims showing photos of their lost loved ones --- it was simply too much. By then, the audience is worn out, and the emotions which should be felt for these poor souls have already been depleted.
Opinion: Marginal See It Now
We are told at the very beginning of "5 Days of War" that it is dedicated to the memory of more than 500 journalists who have perished covering recent wartime activities. The camera then shifts to the back seat of car a rumbling through war-torn Iraq in 2007, with American TV correspondent Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend) and his associate Miriam (Heather Graham) joking with their unseen driver who welcomes them to "hell". Suddenly their vehicle is shattered by an onslaught of bullets, leaving Miriam mortally wounded and Anders severely shaken. It is an horrific scene, startling in its brutality and realism.
A year passes, and Anders is back at it, this time covering a tense situation in a small border town in Georgia, of the former Soviet Union. He is accompanied by his cameraman, Sebastian (Richard Coyle), who is unofficially filming a local wedding when they are suddenly bombarded by Russian war planes. One of the wedding guests is Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), sister of the bride, shielded by Anders during the attack, who spotted her from afar and seems attracted to her. But this is no time for romance, and they eventually meet again in search of Tatia's sister and father amid the threats of Russian aggression.
"5 Days of War" is an action-packed and tense story of a handful of ultra-heroic war correspondents who risk their lives to tell the truth. The memory card from Sebastian's camera is the hot potato that the Russians want to destroy and the journalists want to get into the hands of any news agency that will televise its contents. If the card is lost or ruined, the atrocities committed by Russian troops and well-paid, conscience-challenged mercenary soldiers will forever be unknown and unproven to the world.
Speaking of the truth, the veracity of the movie could be questioned. It is clearly filmed from a pro-Georgian standpoint. Andy Garcia plays the sympathetic and beleaguered Georgian President whose pleas to President Bush for military aid fall on deaf ears. However, the historical data suggests that the Georgian army could have been the aggressor to recapture lost territory. Whatever the real facts are, this brief war held virtually no interest for the American people, a mere blip that was completely overshadowed by the Beijing Olympics and other domestic concerns.
Historical accuracy aside, Finnish director Renny Harlin, with a long resume of action movies, has constructed an exciting story from start to finish. Friend and Coyle abandon their native British accents and come across as very likeable American journalists. Friend, in particular, has a strong screen presence, a solid actor with superb credits like "The Young Victoria", "Cheri", "Pride & Prejudice" and "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". In "5 Days of War", Friend is the handsome protagonist, who despite personal tragedy in his perilous occupation, continues on in the name of justice and human rights.