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By Joe Bendel. In early August, 2008, the Russian military invaded the free and democratic country of Georgia, leaving death and destruction in its wake. They are still there, occupying the so-called breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a fact the media has yet to notice. Indeed, the journalistic establishment did its best to look the other way, except for a hardy band of foreign correspondents who risked life and limb to cover the Russian atrocities. Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin (yes, that Renny Harlin) dramatizes Georgia’s struggle to preserve its sovereign integrity through their lenses in 5 Days of War, which opens this Friday in New York.

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Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President as a Western-oriented reformer, the exact opposite of Russian PM Vladimir Putin. So committed to strengthening relations with America and NATO, Georgia contributed military forces to Operation Iraqi Freedom. For war reporter Thomas Anders, it is a good thing they did. As 5 Days opens, Capt. Rezo Avaliani’s unit arrives just in the nick of time to save him from a terrorist ambush, creating a bond of friendship between the two men. As Russia starts massing troops on the border, the psychologically wounded Anders heads back into the field, where he will encounter the good Captain again.

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President Saakashvili and his American advisor scramble to rally world support, but the media is not interested. When CNN bothers to cover the story (yes, the network is mentioned by name), they only present the Russian government’s spin. Even more frustrating, legitimate journalists on the ground, like Anders and his hard drinking colleague Laurens “Dutchman” Roemer, are not able to place their dramatic stories of Russian war crimes (unflinchingly illustrated throughout the film), because their outlets simply do not care. Unfortunately, the Olympics will soon start, crowding beleaguered Georgia out of the media spotlight.

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It will come as a shock to many that Renny Harlin had such a serious and timely film in him. Yet, it is important to remember the Cliffhanger director’s Finnish roots. Indeed, Saakashvili explicitly references Finland’s resistance to Soviet invaders in his climatic address to the nation. The director clearly has a passion for the story, but his action movie roots also serve the material quite well.

Frankly, it is a bit of a misnomer to call 5 Days a war film, because it was never a fair fight. However, Harlin and cinematographer Checco Varese (a former news cameraman who saw action in Bosnia and Chechnya) convey a vivid sense of what it is like to have the Russian war machine bearing down on you. It is a scarily convincing sensation, never really captured on film so effectively before.

A surprisingly good physical match for Saakashvili, Andy Garcia invests the film with real dignity and gravitas. In fact, his delivery of the President’s stirring national address might just get you a little choked up. Indeed, the Georgian characters are all quite credible and compelling, particularly Johnathon Schaech as the resourceful Capt. Avaliani.

Andy Garcia as Mikheil Saakashvili in "Five Days of War."

Shrewdly, Val Kilmer plays to his new degenerate out-of-shape image as the cynical Dutchman. Rade Sherbedgia, Kilmer’s former co-star from The Saint, notches another memorable heavy role, playing Col. Demidov with more nuance than the Russians deserve. If there is a weak spot in the cast it is Rupert Friend, who only digs into his character just so far, in between dodging bullets and getting the stuffing kicked out of him. Still, he is serviceable enough to keep the film on track and firing on all cylinders.

Tightly helmed by Harlin, 5 Days is absolutely riveting as cinema when considered only according to strict formalist criteria, but of course there is much more to take into account. One suspects it was originally conceived with an even darker slap-in-the-face ending. Regardless, the final film is blisteringly angry and honest. Yet it is also inspiring, depicting a small, scrappy Eastern European nation standing up against a vastly more powerful aggressor, championing the values we advocate. Conversely, for nearly everyone working for a major media outlet, the film is a long cold glass of shame. One of the year’s best, 5 Days opens this Friday (8/19) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.

Posted on August 15th, 2011 at 11:02am.

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8 Responses to “LFM Review: Russia Invades Georgia in 5 Days of War, Starring Andy Garcia”

  1. Vince says:

    Saakashvili is an open supporter of Islamic terrorism — he even hosted a big jihad super-conference that was advertised in the Washington Times. He’s been obsessed with riling up Islamic terrorists in the Northern Caucasus to unleash them against Russia.

    There’s no doubt Russia has also been a sponsor of Islamic terrorism, but Georgia launched attacks along the border for more than a decade, and Putin warned retaliation for years. Georgia’s cooperation with Iran and other Islamic entities give mujahideen free access routes to the entire region.

    This is the best summary I can find:

  2. Anton says:

    Trailer looks great. Interestingly, I will be in Georgia next month, and hope to see the film before I go. For the record, it was a mistake for the Georgian President to start a war with Tsar/Commissar Putin. Though the Georgians put up a great fight (like the Finns during the Winter War of 1939), the outcome was clear from the beginning. The Russians cannot afford to lose that area (oil pipelines) or cede control, or at least that is the view from the Kremlin.

    Speaking of Finns, I hope Renny Harlin makes a film about Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä.

    …lastly, it is sad to see Val Kilmer looking so bloated. One of the BEST roles in film history was his portrayal of Doc Holliday in “Tombstone,” and that is how I like to remember him….Huckleberry.

  3. SeeSaw says:

    Sounds great. Now we need a film about Honduras.

    • Vince says:

      THAT would be the film to make, SeeSaw!

      Imagine … a president that buddies up with Hugo Chavez, and then tries to eliminate the parts of the Honduran constitution that establishes term limits. SInce, according to the Honduran constitution, even a president talking about eliminating term limits is punishable by impeachment, the Honduran supreme court ordered Zalaya be relieved of duty — and he was!

      What a noble concept! Following your constitution … hmmm.

      Great call.

      • SeeSaw says:

        Vince, I agree. I think there’s a truly inspiring story there, and one likely never to be told because of the man behind the prolonged crisis (our President). I wonder if we’ll even remember what happened in Honduras in a few years. Hell, we don’t even remember now, and barely even knew it was happening at the time. And, for that matter, Andy Garcia could really sink his teeth into a Honduras parable. He showed in the Lost City that he is not at all afraid to go after communist icons.

        W/r/t your pieces of Georgia, I have to say you did not choose people who are in any way inclined to be soft on Russia (Geller and Spencer, the latter of whom I particularly admire), and I checked for counter-arguments and haven’t been able to find any. I’m not going to change my perspective on which side I favor in this conflict (and I’m not sure you were saying we should favor Russia so much as we should not turn Saakashvili into a martyr or a saint), and to a large extent this using of Jihadists as the tip of the spear is par for the course in Russosphere politics, but all of that being said, it shouldn’t be ignored. I’ll stay cautiously agnostic on the details here until I see fuller explorations. Thanks for the links, in any case.

        • Vince says:

          I’m definitely not siding with Russia — I’m just interested in truth. I’d probably characterize my stance as you said: Let’s be careful not to turn Saakashvili into a martyr.

          You said it best: “to a large extent this using of Jihadists as the tip of the spear is par for the course in Russosphere politics.” That’s perfect, and I’d also add that no one is concerned with fighting jihad, but rather controlling it.

          W/r/t to Honduras. Imagine what was against these brave people. The entire US State Department, the mainstream media here, Chavez, Ortega, and the rest of those goons.

          During the crisis, I was a news editor at a 35,000-circulation paper. The AP immediately named the story “Honduras Coup” and kept it that way the whole time. Every day AP sent photos of Zelaya’s supporters, and then when the conservative won the election, the story was mysteriously dropped.

          Great call on “The Lost City” by the way. That’s immediately what I imagined when you suggested the Honduran constitution crisis be turned into a film.

  4. Dan says:


    Georgia started the war, not Russia. Let’s not let propaganda get in the way of facts.

  5. K says:

    Georgia launched attacks along the border for more than a decade

    Why would tiny Georgia launch attacks along the border of their giant and bellicose neighbor? For the same reason Poland was attacking German radio stations just prior to WW2, perhaps?

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