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Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 5 Days Of War

Directed by: Renny Harlin

Produced by: Renny Harlin
George Lascu
Mirza Davitaia
Koba Nakopia

Screenplay by: Mikko Alanne
David Battle

Starring: Rupert Friend
Emmanuelle Chirqui
Richard Coyle
Andy Garcia
Johnathon Schaech
Rade Serbedzija
Antje Traue
Val Kilmer
Dean Cain
Heather Graham

Music by: Trevor Rabin

Cinematography by: Checco Varese

Editing by: Brian Berdan

Studio: RexMedia

Distributed by: Anchor Bay Entertainment (United States)

Release date(s): June 5, 2011 (Georgia)
June 9, 2011 (United Kingdom)
August 19, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 109 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English
Georgian
Russian

Budget: $12 million

Box office revenue: $17, 479


Allo allo, I've been on an absence again due to essays, but I can guarantee a number of reviews coming in. Along with this movie, I've been able to see Suck, the rock-and-roll vampire comedy with Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins, and will be going to the cinema tomorrow to see either Immortals or The Rum Diary (probably the latter). Also, I've got copies now (to join the plethora of those awaiting review) of Age Of Heroes and The Way Back. I've been bogged down with Late Medieval Literature and Charlie Chaplin films of late, neither of which are a bad thing, but I'll be glad of the brief respite before I get back into them in a few days. By Wednesday next, my essays'll be out of the way, and reviews will resume as normal, so keep your eyes posted!

Ok, today's film here is 5 Days Of War. I bought this film on the basis of it being a new Renny Harlin movie, and so I knew that as a review it would provoke some interesting arguments. Now, I believe that Harlin is a very underrated filmmaker, for while he doesn't have the critical reception of a Christopher Nolan, he has in Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea two good films under his belt, and in the case Cliffhanger, one great film. Harlin has proved to me that there is enough talent there to be deserving of objective critical analysis. 5 Days Of War follows Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend), an American reporter who along with his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle) and a number of others reporters, including cast members Antje Traue and Val Kilmer, who get caught in the crossfire of the 2008 South Ossetia War between Russia and Georgia.

To start off with what is good about the film, I must say that Renny Harlin directs this movie with the efficiency and flair that is typical of his work. Although he has certainly made some rubbish films in the past, it is generally the case that even their individual parts are bad, Harlin handles them with care. Also, Andy Garcia convincingly plays Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia. At first, I couldn't help but think "what the hell are they doing?", but for all the limited screen time he has, Garcia does a good job and has you believe that he is that character. Also, there is an affecting performance by Rade Serbedzija. Despite his character being written in a nuts-and-bolts fashion, he excels in his performance as the weary, 'seen it all' Col. Demidov. It is the kind of performance that is befitting of the film, especially considering the direction that it wishes to take, blending right in with the film's serious tone. He is definitely the most intriguing part of the entire picture. As expected with a Harlin movie, there is really good production design, and this being coupled with some well-selected locations give the film a believable mise-en-scene. 5 Days Of War is at its best when Harlin has cinematographer Checco Varese placed far away from the action, using wide and helicopter shots to capture the action taking place. Finally, there are a number of scenes at one point in the film involving a chess game, where the action slows down and we get a scene of dialogue that is surprisingly strong, affecting and from the way 5 Days Of War feels overall, seems to belong in a different film.

While there are certainly worthy elements to 5 Days Of War, it is a seriously problematic film. For starters, and I'm not going to be rude because I'm worried that if he knocked out Tom Cruise he wouldn't think twice about kicking my head in, but if you are going to introduce Val Kilmer in a film, these days it would be preferable not to do so via webcam in a bathtub. Just saying. Next on the checklist of wrongdoings is the cinematography. Now, I praised it earlier on, but my problem is that there are too many times that they decide to shoot on Digital Video. I have no particular problem with DV as a format, but it is just being used so much, and in this case so badly, that it is no longer stylistic (or even realistic!), and sometimes becomes the dullard's format in terms of shooting a picture. Also, as one and one go together to make two, the editing by Brian Berden also fails. The switching about from all of these different formats, and the extreme variation in shot lengths, the type of sound in a scene etc etc all create a film that is easily as hyperreal as a postmodern documentary like Exit Through The Gift Shop. Saying that, while Exit Through The Gift Shop clearly nods towards whether or not you should buy it as legitimate, 5 Days Of War is unfortunately a very serious film that's fundamental hyperreality ensures that you don't buy any of it whatsoever. This is a big problem that makes the film's already weak script come across even worse. Unlike Harlin's other pictures, this is a dead serious, 'horrors of war' war film, and attempts to send out a serious message as opposed to it being a straight-up action picture. As such, we have a lot of scenes of people talking rather poignantly about how they lost their prize pigs (not literally, I am taking the piss!) and woe is me. I have no problem with 'horrors of war' pictures, I consider Come And See one of the greatest films ever made, but this is done in such a propagandist manner. The dialogue is shoddy, as if the actors, none of whom bar Garcia and Serbedzija give a good performance, have enough to contend with already having to play poorly realised characters. Also, there is no real sense of an objective argument, with 'glorious Georgia' being portrayed as all good and peace-loving, while the Russians are evil barbarians. It's like the portrayal of Russians in the 1980s, only then there was a context (the Cold War) behind these stereotypes and that films like Rambo: First Blood Part II were not meant to be taken as serious depictions of war. Finally, although I think Harlin handles the job with efficiency, this contains many of his trademarks, most of which end up contradicting the 'horrors of war' angle the film takes and leave me with the opinion that he probably wasn't the right director to work on this project.

While Renny Harlin does make a sincere effort to do his best with this picture, which contains a good performance by Andy Garcia and a great one from Rade Serbedzija, some decent cinematography, a strongly-established mise-en-scene and a great series of scenes in the mid-way point of the film that nearly convinced me the movie was better than it was, 5 Days Of War is ultimately a botched failure of a film. Bar Garcia, there is not a good performance to be seen, due in part to a bad script that fails in its structure, its characterisations and the dialogue that has been written for the characters. Also, the cinematography and editing do not work well together and cause the film to lack the consistency it dearly needs, no thanks to the regular switching of formats. This, along with the film's propagandist tendencies ensure that 5 Days Of War is a very flawed 'horrors of war' film that does not depict its topic appropriately and comes across as a hyperreal mess that you can never really take seriously.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.2/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Anxious (to get this done: I'm looking forward to beer and The Wicker Man! Original, of course)

P.S. There are some real Team America/Tropic Thunder moments in here that you'd think should never be seen again outside a comedic context

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