Dark Days in Georgia
Main Cast: Rupert Friend, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Richard Coyle
Director: Renny Harlin
You may vaguely remember some sort of “uprising” in the nation of Georgia in the summer of 2008. Once part of the Soviet Union, Georgia is a sovereign nation that has been seeking closer ties with the west for years. That particular summer, while the rest of the world watched the Olympics, Russia invaded Georgia. At the time we heard the Russian party line, if we heard anything at all. 5 Days of War tells the Georgian version of those events.
Helmed by Renny Harlin and starring Rupert Friend, Richard Coyle and Emmanuelle Chriqui, 5 Days of War recounts the short, bloody war through the eyes of Thomas Anders (Friend), an emotionally wounded war reporter. While highlighting the violent aggression of the Russians the film takes the opportunity to examine the determination of journalists to not only get a story but show the ugly truth of war.
Though based on actual events, 5 Days of War is a work of fiction. Only the world leaders portrayed actually exist. Based on the statistics given at the end of the film about the numbers of casualties it’s clear that Harlin took significant artistic license in choreographing the carnage. But I have to give him credit – the man knows how to blow stuff up. We’ve become so immune to onscreen violence that unless it’s exaggerated we hardly register how it would affect those in its midst. The scenes of bombing, ground fighting and fleeing civilians are sufficiently in your face to put you in the shoes of those who are losing homes, loved ones and an entire way of life.
The real star of 5 Days of War, though, is the absolutely brilliant cinematography by Checco Varese. Filmed on location in Georgia, the initial scenes are stunningly beautiful. The countryside is picturesque, tranquil and green, interrupted only by series of villages, lovely old cities and stark, gorgeous geological features. As the film progresses we move away from all that lush, vibrant color. The cities and villages are turned to dust and rubble by bombings, the people become tattered shells of their former robust selves, the rivers run red with blood and their banks burn. Again, I can only assume some artistic license, but it’s so meticulously rendered that we really do feel the pain of such horrible destruction of lives, homes and history.
Friend commits himself well, if not marvelously, as Thomas Anders. His role doesn’t really allow for too much development, it’s far more about action. Chriqui plays a Georgian educated in the U.S. who reminds the viewer, with her perfect (too perfect, I think) English that these people are no different from you and I. Coyle is the veteran cameraman, willing to take massive risks to get his story and get it broadcast to a world that doesn’t care. He’s very good, taking on an air of genial camaraderie combined with steely determination. Also appearing in small roles are Val Kilmer as a fellow journalist and Andy Garcia as the Georgian president frustrated by a world that turns a blind eye to the plight of his country out of both apathy and the desire to appease the Russians.
Overall, 5 Days of War is a very good documentation of a war most of us don’t even remember. It’s definitely a story told from the Georgian point of view and Harlin’s tendency to exaggerate, while effective as you watch, detracts somewhat from the reality when you realize what he’s done as the credits role with facts and figures about the war and its aftermath. The production is beautiful, the story compelling and the performances quite good. 4 out of 5 stars.