If Renny Harlin was hoping to revive his floundering career with 5 Days of War, an action-thriller that focuses on journalists who risked their lives to cover the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, he's likely to be bitterly disappointed.
The Finnish director has struggled for more than a decade to match his earlier successes such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger.
Funded largely by the Georgian government and released in the US by tiny independent Anchor Bay Films, the $US12 million production opened in New York and Washington D.C. on August 19. Despite a cast that includes Val Kilmer, Andy Garcia and Heather Graham, the film took a miserable $9,310 in its first week on two screens.
According to Anchor Bay's website, the film is scheduled to play in five more US cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, but its prospects appear grim.
It was Harlin's first feature since 12 Rounds, a 2009 dud which starred John Cena, an actor better known as a professional wrestler.
Shot in Georgia, the film focuses on a renegade American journalist (Rupert Friend), his English cameraman (Richard Coyle) and a local schoolteacher (Emmanuelle Chiriqui) caught behind enemy lines during the five-day war between Russia and the Georgian Republic. Kilmer plays an embedded gonzo journalist, Graham is a fellow reporter and Garcia is the besieged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Harlin collaborated on the script with a Finnish-born friend Mikko Alanne, who lives in Los Angeles, and their research included interviewing Georgians, refugees and journalists and perusing reports from the United Nations reports and human rights watch.
Perhaps anticipating his film may face similar challenges in drawing audiences as other war movies in recent years, the director told The Playlist:
“I realize people are being oversaturated by the news media about all the misery going on in the world, and these are endless wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Rwanda. I think, sadly, the problem many times is that the audience looks at these places, and they feel depressed. Visually you're looking at a lot of desert and ruins. And the religion and culture and the way people dress is very foreign.
“It's very easy for people to push that away and say, that's not my reality. So when I went to Georgia I recognized that this country is very much main street Europe, like a Mediterranean country, with very relatable issues and people. It became my mission to get that on the big screen, make it so people could relate to it and feel that can be their reality.”
The reviews have been mixed, tilting towards the negative. The New York Times' Stephen Holden called it a “flaring firecracker… which resurrects clichés from several decades of Hollywood war movies” and features a “continuous barrage of explosions, sneak attacks, chases, life-and-death face-offs, and amazing rescues that are as far-fetched as they are exhilarating.”
Slant Magazine Jaime Christley opined, “Harlin is looking to hoist himself up from the bottom of the barrel using the Blood Diamond template: gritty action boosted by an enlightened moral conscience. Unfortunately, he followed the recipe a little too closely, as it clearly calls for unrelenting awfulness that's made even more fetid by the age-old, imponderably smug requirement that the protagonist be a white, hetero, male American, the better to help the target demographic process the exotic 'other'-ness of the film's far-off, war-torn (yet WiFi-hotspot-abundant) landscape.”
After that, it might be back to the drawing boards for the 52-year-old director, who clearly feels aggrieved that the US studios have been reluctant to hire him since Sony's The Covenant in 2006.
He told The Playlist, “I'd love to make a big Hollywood film, I look forward to that, But I'm done with sequels. I told my agents not to bother with that. It's different when you're 30, and just coming into the business, but I really want to tell my own stories right now. If I were to make a sequel to any of my movies, though, it would be The Long Kiss Goodnight 2. In the story, Charlie's daughter, who was six in the original, she's now twenty one, and in the opening sequence Geena's (Davis) character is killed under mysterious circumstances, and her daughter hooks up with Samuel L. Jackson to find out the truth. He's totally game for it, and I'm trying to get that made now.”