Renny Harlin’s Russian Baddies; John Sayles’s ‘Amigo’: Movies
The phony Russian accents in “5 Days of War” sound like bad imitations of Boris and Natasha, the Cold War villains in the old Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons.
Authenticity isn’t foremost in Renny Harlin’s silly, simpleminded film about journalists covering the 2008 Russia- Georgia war who try to reunite a stranded Georgian teacher (Emmanuelle Chriqui) with her family.
Harlin, director of “Die Hard 2,”knows how to blow things up, but he and screenwriters Mikko Alanne and David Battle don’t do people with anything approaching subtlety.
All the journalists -- including a fearless TV reporter (Rupert Friend), his resourceful cameraman (Richard Coyle) and a wily correspondent (a portly Val Kilmer) -- are stock figures straight from a “Front Page” newsroom.
The rival combatants are, for the most part, neatly divided into good and evil. Captain Rezo Avaliani (Johnathan Schaech) is a selfless Georgian fighting for his country’s freedom, while Colonel Alexandr Demidov (Rade Sherbedgia) is a ruthless Russian whose troops shoot villagers and steal their animals. (The mercy he shows at the end of the film is highly implausible.)
Then there’s Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a slick U.S.-style politician played by Andy Garcia. I don’t know what’s more ridiculous, Garcia’s stilted accent or the hokey scenes with his American political adviser.
The war was much more complicated than the version depicted in the movie, which was shot in Georgia and has a heavy pro- Georgia slant. Human-rights groups concluded that both sides committed atrocities against civilians.
The subject deserves a serious dramatic treatment.
“5 Days of War,” from Anchor Bay Films, has opened in New York. Rating: *
John Sayles, who has made movies about the 1919 Black Sox scandal and a 1920 shootout between coal miners and union busters in West Virginia, tackles another historic event from the early 20th century in “Amigo.”
Set during the Philippine-U.S. war in 1900, it’s the story of Rafael, a village mayor (Joel Torre) pressured by U.S. forces to help track down guerrilla fighters led by his brother Simon (Ronnie Lazaro).
“Amigo” is a bold film, and not just because Sayles sympathizes with the Filipinos. It’s also rare for a U.S. director to make a film with mostly Spanish dialogue.
Chris Cooper, who made his feature debut in Sayles’s “Matewan,” plays a hard-nosed U.S. colonel whose soldiers torture the mayor with an old form of waterboarding to make him reveal the rebels’ hideout. Garret Dillahunt portrays a more sympathetic American officer, and Yu Vazquez is a conniving Spanish friar.
Like most of Sayles’s films, “Amigo” requires patience and concentration. It moves slowly (bordering on lethargic at times) and refuses to glorify violence. But if you’re in the mood for an intelligent drama about an overlooked war, “Amigo” shows what “5 Days of War” might have been.
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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