The First Casualty Of War Is Truth…

Today I watched an action / drama movie from 2011, directed by Renny Harlin (“Die Hard 2”, “The Long Kiss Goodnight”), entitled “5 Days Of War”.

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Following the quote that “the first casualty of war is truth” – attributed to US politician Hiram Johnson in 1918 – the film opens with the statement that five hundred reporters have been killed during the previous decade in war situations.

Rupert Friend & Richard Coyle
Rupert Friend & Richard Coyle

We then head to Iraq during 2007 where we meet freelance reporter Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend – “The Last Legion”, “Hitman : Agent 47”) and his cameraman Sebastian Ganz (Richard Coyle – “Coupling”, “Pusher”) coming under fire. Anders’ colleague and lover  Miriam Eisner (Heather Graham – “From Hell”, “Austin Powers : The Spy Who Shagged Me”) is killed before he and Ganz are rescued by coalition forces from Georgia.

Val Kilmer
Val Kilmer

A year later the pair head to Georgia when a fellow reporter, Dutchman (Val Kilmer – “Top Gun”, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”), tells them that he believes a new conflict is brewing between Georgia and Russia.

Waiting to meet Dutchman’s contact who will guide them to the town of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia, Anders and Ganz watch and film a wedding party in a small Georgian village.

Emmanuelle Chriqui
Emmanuelle Chriqui

During the party they are witness as the village is attacked by Russian helicopters, leaving many dead. The reporter and cameraman manage to escape, together with local girl Tatia Meddevi (Emmanuelle Chriqui – “Three Night Stand”, “Entourage”) who – as luck would have it – studied political science in the US and can act as interpreter for them.

Johnathon Schaech & Director Renny Harlin
Johnathon Schaech & Director Renny Harlin

Meeting up again with Captain Rezo Avaliani (Johnathon Schaech – “The Prince”, “The Poker Club”), who had led the forces that saved them in Iraq, the new trio reunite with Meddevi’s father and sister and manage to covertly film some paramilitary forces, hired by the Russians, committing war crimes.

Rade Serbedzija
Rade Serbedzija

Once the leader of these forces, Colonel Alexandr Demidov (Rade Serbedzija – “Mission : Impossible II”, “Middle Men”) and his right-hand man Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen – “Trench Road”, “Under The North Star”) realise this there begins a race for the reporters to get the footage uploaded before the Russian backed forces get their hands on the evidence.

Mikko Nousiainen
Mikko Nousiainen

They find that the US networks aren’t interested in what’s happening in Georgia as the 2008 Olympics are just getting underway – and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia – “The Untouchables”, “Let’s Be Cops”) is having just as hard a time getting any help to repel the Russian invaders from the US or Europe…

Andy Garcia
Andy Garcia

The film ends with a montage of Georgian people holding pictures of relatives that they lost during the conflict.

This is an interesting film, and all the more engaging for being based on true events and seen through the eyes of reporters but also of civilians – the latter being those that suffer hugely through something that they really haven’t signed up for – rather than the soldiers involved.

Rupert Friend & Richard Coyle
Rupert Friend & Richard Coyle

The movie was apparently financed with funds coming from sources close to Saakashvili, who was at the time still President of Georgia, and one of the film’s producers was listed as Mirza Davitaia who was himself Deputy Minister of Ministry of Culture, Monument Protection and Sports for the Georgian government. It is perhaps no great surprise, then, that the movie’s relationship with historical accuracy seems a bit biased. I am no expert on this conflict or the events leading up to and surrounding it, though I doubt it is as one-sided (the big bad Russians) as depicted in the film.

Emmanuelle Chriqui & Rupert Friend
Emmanuelle Chriqui & Rupert Friend

That said, director Harlin has stated that “…I talked to a lot of refugees. And I met with a lot of foreign journalists that were still there, who had covered the war. All of these stories started to emerge… we really did the research, and we studied reports from the UN, and on the internet, and the news, and the human rights watch. We wanted to get the timeline, and the facts of the war, very real, and very right. It wasn’t easy, because there was a lot of misinformation on the internet. And a lot of news agencies had covered the story from a point of view that wasn’t faithful to reality… the details of this story were things that we directly heard about, or read, or a combination of the two. The characters were either people we’d learned about, or we took traits and combine those…”. So, although some aspects – the inevitable love interest for example – may be pure Hollywood, there is clearly a lot of truth here, even if it is predominantly from one side of the story. Going back to that opening quote I’m not convinced that this movie presents the truth, rather a somewhat biased and over-simplified version of it.

But, having been moved to find out a little more of the story behind the film I can say that despite some of its shortcomings this is still a really quite powerful movie that gives you plenty to think about. Not only in terms of where other countries choose to get involved, or not to (there is a discussion in the film about Rwanda and the reasons for the West not getting involved) but largely around the complete horror of war, and the unnecessary atrocities that so often accompany it…btm

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