When one thinks of a gut-churning, politically minded film about war, the name Renny Harlin doesn’t immediately spring to mind. The action maestro, who’s spent the last decade taking odd genre jobs to get his career back on track, attempts to crack the mystery of the message movie with “5 Days of War,” an unsettled mix of history and histrionics that benefits from Harlin’s special touch with large-scale action sequences.
The director of “Die Hard 2,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” endeavors to command his own feature on the 2008 South Ossetia war. Now that I didn’t see coming. Bravo to the filmmaker, who looks to step outside his comfort zone for a change, assembling a striking descent into the vicious landscape of a country being ripped apart from all sides. The picture is pro-Georgia, leaving behind any intensive discussion of complex political positions and demands. However, the effort alone is worth a few accolades, revealing Harlin’s itch to move beyond insipid actioners starring professional wrestlers (2009’s “12 Rounds”). Bravo.
Unfortunately, “5 Days of War” is confused as to what type of film it wants to be. The primary goal of the movie is to emphasize the Georgian violation, spending a great deal of screentime on graphic incidents of murder and demolition, carried out by omnipresent helicopters prowling the land searching for anything to bomb. It’s a display of weary, frightened innocents and hardened soldiers that’s convincingly communicated by Harlin, who’s always best with silent incidents of panic, getting into the thick of combat via a combustible arrangement of war zone horrors. The images do stick, even if they’re glossed up a touch by Harlin’s Hollywood training.
The picture also chases a highly bizarre plot that reduces Thomas’s struggle to a showdown scenario with Demidov’s top enforcer. Not only is the subplot pure cliché, but it’s entirely inappropriate, contained inside a movie that looks to openly weep for a nation. The white hat/black hat confrontation (hosed down some by a romantic connection between Thomas and Tatia) is complete absurdity, crippling the feature when it should land a lasting sting of political revelation.
“5 Days of War” features quite an oddball cast (including Dean Cain, Jonathan Schaech, Heather Graham, Val Kilmer, and Andy Garcia, playing Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili) and motors on with a limited budget, yet Harlin manages to summarize the intensity of combat and the despair of conflict. Despite its many flaws, “5 Days of War” retains a visceral punch. A shame it doesn’t have much of a brain.