(director: Renny Harlin; screenwriters: Mikko Alanne/David Battle; cinematographer: Checco Varese; editor: Brian Berdan; music: Trevor Rabin; cast: Rupert Friend (Thomas Anders), Richard Coyle (Sebastian Ganz), Emmanuelle Chriqui (Tatia Meddevi), Heather Graham (Miriam Eisner), Johnathon Schaech (Cpt. Rezo Avaliani), Mikko Nousiainen (Daniil), Mikheil Gomiashvili (Anton Meddevi ), Ani Imnadze (Sofi Meddevi), Rade Sherbedgia (Col. Alexandr Demidov), Andy Garcia (President Mikheil Saakashvili), Val Kilmer(Dutchman), Antje Traue (Zoe); Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: R; producers: George Lascu, Mirza Papuna Davitaia, Koba Nakopia, Renny Harlin; Anchor Bay; 2011)

“Anti-Russian propaganda film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A $12 million anti-Russian propaganda film, with military equipment and troops provided by the defense ministry of Georgia. The Hollywood-based Finnish director Renny Harlin (“Cutthroat Island“/”Cliffhanger”), known for his action films, helms a rousing conventional political war drama based on real events that points out the self-sacrifice of war correspondents in the obscure Georgian War (a war all but ignored by the world in favor of the summer Beijing Olympics, which took place the same time and at 17 days ran longer than the war). The bitter war resulted in conflicting reports of who started it, as Russian fake news took over the airwaves. We learn the war resulted in several hundred Georgians killed and 50,000 left homeless when their villages were bombed. It’s crisply but confusingly written by Mikko Alanne and David Battle, but probably not written convincingly enough to sway public opinion in favor of the Georgians as intended. Nevertheless the combat scenes are well-photographed by Checco Varese and its POV of condemning Russia was right on target.

After a bad experience in Iraq, the gutsy cable news free-lance American war correspondent Thomas Anders (Rupert Friend, British actor) is asked via Skype by the world weary journalist the Dutchman (Val Kilmer), to join him in Georgia and be where the next war will start. Anders takes him up on the offer and arrives on the eve of the Russian invasion in the summer of 2008. Russia joins with the separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to confront an independent Georgia seeking to partner with the West. Anders’ British cameraman, Sebastian (Richard Coyle), goes with him to the breakaway republic of South Ossetia to a wedding party where they observe a Russian air strike on the village of Vaziani. The newsmen and an English speaking teacher wedding guest, Tatia (Emmanuelle Chriqui), shuttle survivors to a military hospital in Gori. The trio return to the battle zone to help find Tatia’s missing family and document evidence of a war crime. After locating her father and bride sister, the brutal Russian Colonel Demidov (Rade Serbedjiza) and his sadistic mercenary colleague Daniil (Mikko Nousiainen), capture them. But they are rescued Rambo-like at the last moment. The trio return to safety in Gori to get their war footage out, while Tatia’s family returns to their besieged village. Meanwhile the desperate Georgian President Saakashvilli (Andy Garcia) futilely seeks international help, blaming Russia for the brutal war.

Heather Graham has a brief cameo as the war correspondent lover of Friend, who was killed in Iraq. Johnathon Schaech plays the Georgian soldier who acts Rambo-like to free prisoners.

We learn once again in a cliched war film that ‘war is hell.’ The film does a better job showing a chemistry-free romance developing, Hollywood heroics, barbarism, things getting blown up and casualties mounting than it does articulating the critical political situation in that part of the world.

REVIEWED ON 4/7/2017 GRADE: C+      https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/