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Good journalism and Murdoch's pie-gate

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5 Days of War (MA). Director: Renny Harlin. Starring: Rupert Friend, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia. 113 minutes

5 Days of War is a timely film. It arrives at the same moment that Rupert Murdoch's News International media empire finds istelf with more than just egg on its face over the News of the World phone hacking scandal. As the world watches this real-world story unfold of journalism at its most prurient and base, 5 Days of War pays tribute to journalism at its most noble and courageous.

'In the early part of my career I got to make some movies that were entertaining and successful but I always felt that I was missing something,' reflects director Renny Harlin. With 5 Days of War, he says, 'I have made a movie that is about something and that has meaning'.

The film takes place during the Russian invasion of the sovereign (former Soviet) state of Georgia in 2008. It follows the plight of a group of journalists deep within the conflcit zone, who risk their lives in order to capture and broadcast the 'truth' of the unfolding events. Their evidence includes footage of acts of brutality committed by militants engaged by the Russian military.

Harlin describes it as an anti-war film. It opens, somewhat tritely, with the famous misquote commonly attributed to early 20th century US Senator Hiram Warren Johnson, that 'The first casualty of war is truth', and with a dedication to all war journalists who have lost their lives while documenting conflict (at least three foreign journalists were killed during the Russia-Georgia episode).

His fictional but 'based on fact' film displays technical proficiency and attention to realism. It was shot on location, and the filmmakers had access to large numbers of military vehicles and weaponry supplied by the Georgian military, minimising the need for CGI. The actors were provided with training by US Marines who were in the country readying local troops for duty in Afghanistan.

Notably, director of photography Checco Varese is a former news cameraman with extensive experience filming in conflict zones in Columbia, Bosnia and Chechnya. His camerawork lends the film an authentic, newsy feel that places the viewer in the midst of events.

But sadly this is not a good film. Its shallow characterisations and lack of emotional engagement, and its plethora of explosions and blood-gushing gun violence, put it is closer to the 'entertaining and successful' films of Harlin's earlier career (mostly 'fun but dumb' action movies including Die Hard 2) than to morally complex war films such as Apocalypse Now, The Thin Red Line and The Hurt Locker.

It also misses the nuances of the conflict, portraying Georgia as a David whose only crime is to want to be closer to America (and what more noble national goal can there be?), and Russia as a petulant and bullying Goliath raining wrath upon its diminutive neighbour out of sheer geopolitical sour grapes. The film has been described by some critics as anti-Russian propaganda, with some justification.

Unfortunately, in this, Harlin has done a disservice to the journalists he wished to honour. If a film is ever made about the life of Tim Hetherington, the photojournalist and documentarian killed this year in Libya, hopefully it will better capture the humanity of its subject, and thus offer a more compelling portrait of journalism at its best, to counter the News Limited example of journalism at its worst. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter 

Topic tags: 5 Days of War, Renny Harlin, Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia, Georgia, Russia, Mikheil Saakashvili, Rupert Murdoch



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I was looking for analysis of "pie-gate" - not a film review. I don't bother with online journals much and you need to be more helpful than this with headlines or I will just delete Eureka St altogether

Libby | 22 July 2011  

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