As the world sat glued to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a matter of far greater import was unfolding in Georgia, but few of us knew and even fewer cared. Having gained its independence from Russia following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Georgia found itself essentially being invaded once again, following the expressed desire by two republics of Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) to separate and rejoin Russia. Russia claimed its involvement was solely to assist these republics, whereas Georgia saw itself as a victim of Russia’s desire to once again expand.
Georgia reached out to the US and the EU, but there was little in the way of a response. Perhaps it was felt to be simple local skirmish, irrelevant to wider, global concerns. Certainly that seems to be a gross over-simplification and the fact that Russian forces remain in place in the separatist republics gives the lie to this not being about Russian expansionism.
Fortunately for all of us, Renny Harlin (who has long-since established his large-scale, big-budget credentials with Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight) came to hear of the conflict and embarked on this thrilling and yet deeply moving portrayal of a relatively unknown war. As Harlin said during his exclusive interview with us (which will be on the site later today), he grew up in the shadow of the Soviet empire and felt that he understood the tensions and complex issues surrounding Georgia’s relationship with Russia. Certainly the end product is a film about which Harlin feels very strongly and he is able to bring his considerable expertise in large-canvas action to bear as well.
Evenly spread across the film, yet feeling genuinely organic within its fabric, we have a number of military attacks on towns and villages. Tanks rumble, helicopter gunships destroy buildings, fighter jets roar overhead. Harlin has clearly not lost one ounce of his touch in staging these sorts of sequences, with a seemingly effortless sense of geography, scale and movement. Unlike these sorts of sequences in other big budget tent-pole releases I could mention, you can see precisely what is happening and they feel nothing like stand-alone set pieces, instead threading seamlessly through the overall narrative of the film.
There are engaging and satisfying human beats as well, no mean feat given the scale of the action sequences and the global dimensions to the conflict that was rapidly unfolding. Although some of the characters do feel a little like cyphers at times, for the most part we are presented with living, breathing, flesh and blood people, whose eventual fates we care about deeply. The exception would be the invading Russian and mercenary forces, who are a little two-dimensional and boo-hiss villainous for the most part, rarely presenting anything in terms of characterisation or motivation.
This is a minor gripe however, amidst some of the finest work that Renny Harlin has ever put on screen. Some of the resolutions are a little simplistic and it is abundantly clear where the sympathies of all concerned lie, but it is an exceedingly accomplished piece of film-making, bringing to us some much needed education on a significant conflict about which we would have to say we know very little. When I spoke to him, Renny Harlin expressed a great deal of pride in the film and rightly so. The action sequences are as gripping as any from his considerable back catalogue, but he engages the emotions here in a way he has rarely managed in the past.
Despite covering such a large-scale series of events, Harlin never allows the film to become or feel bogged down. It moves along at a good energetic pace, allowing time for each character to develop, but always keeping the film moving along within its disciplined running time. The acting performances are mostly spot on, with the well-known faces (Val Kilmer, Dean Cain, Heather Graham, Andy Garcia) never feeling like stunt casting, being instead as well-immersed in their roles as anyone else on show here.
It is a great shame to see this film miss out on a theatrical release in the UK, however it is due to enjoy a theatrical run in the US later in the summer and you can get it on DVD in the UK from today.
5 DAYS OF WAR RELEASED ON DVD AND BLU-RAY ON 13 JUNE 2011 FROM ENTERTAINMENT ONE