The Next Three Days

In his lat­est film, di­rec­tor Paul Hag­gis ex­plores the lengths a man would go to, to save the woman he loves.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By RIZAL JOHAN rizal@thes­tar.com.my

THE Next Three Days is at once a char­ac­ter study, a heart­break­ing drama and a prison break movie. It’s an un­likely com­bi­na­tion for a film but writer/ di­rec­tor Paul Hag­gis was in­ter­ested in ex­plor­ing the very lim­its of the hu­man spirit and the un­likely but very real chance of break­ing out of prison. Al­though you would be in­clined to think that this is just an­other prison drama, The Next Three Days is far from it.

The story is told through the per­spec­tive of John Bren­nan (Rus­sell Crowe), an English lit­er­a­ture com­mu­nity col­lege teacher in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia, whose idyl­lic life is turned up­side down when his wife Lara (El­iz­a­beth Banks) is ar­rested for murder and sub­se­qently sent to jail.

Bren­nan is con­vinced of his wife’s in­no­cence and hav­ing ex­hausted the re­sources of the law, de­cides to do the un­think­able, which is to help her break out of prison.

Need­less to say, plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing a prison break is dan­ger­ous, costly and down­right risky. And what are the chances that a meek English lit­er­a­ture teacher would pull it off?

Academy Award-win­ning writer and di­rec­tor Hag­gis ex­plores these as­pects and more in his third fea­ture film af­ter Crash and In The Val­ley Of Elah.

An ex­clu­sive tele­phone in­ter­view with Hag­gis, who was in Los An­ge­les, Cal­i­for­nia, summed up the com­plex­i­ties of the film.

“It’s a love story. It’s what you’re will­ing to do for the per­son you love. It also talks about be­lief and trust. Rus­sell’s char­ac­ter be­lieves in his wife’s in­no­cence re­gard­less of the ac­cu­sa­tions and the ev­i­dence against her. He still be­lieves in her. It’s all about what you be­lieve in,” said the Cana­dian-born di­rec­tor.

The Next Three Days is set in Pitts­burgh and it plays a cru­cial part in the story as it re­lates to Crowe’s charater in the film.

“The city of Pitts­burgh is very much a char­ac­ter in the movie. It was for­merly a steel in­dus­try town and nat­u­rally, there were a lot of steel work­ers, the man’s man type of guys ... you know, like the John Wayne type.

“In the film, you see that in the form of Brian Den­nehy’s char­ac­ter, Ge­orge Bren­nan (John’s dad). Pitts­burgh is now known as a city of ed­u­ca­tion and the arts and you see that in Rus­sell’s char­ac­ter, who is an English lit teacher. So it’s the per­fect set­ting for Rus­sell’s char­ac­ter be­cause you are not sure whether he’d be able to pull it (the prison break) off,” ex­plained Hag­gis, 57.

Most parts of the film un­fold in a flash­back se­quence which goes back three years – the night be­fore Bren­nan’s wife is ar­rested and what hap­pens af­ter the ar­rest, how Bren­nan copes with his wife be­ing in jail and look­ing af­ter their young son, her at­tempted sui­cide in jail and how des­per­a­tion drives him to con­ceive the plan to win back her free­dom.

“It’s a long, slow build. You get to see what Rus­sell’s char­ac­ter goes through and I want the au­di­ence to feel his anguish be­cause if you’re not in­vested in the char­ac­ter, then you won’t re­ally care what hap­pens in the end.

“I wanted to keep it tense in the be­gin­ning and in the end. And, you know, I have to credit the ac­tor (Crowe) who is able to go through the mo­tions and make them be­liev­able. Rus­sell is a great ac­tor,” said Hag­gis.

Hag­gis wrote the story for The Next Three Days al­most a year-and-a-half ago af­ter see­ing the French film Pour Elle, on which the film is based, but he has put his own take on it and “made it a lit­tle more ex­cit­ing” as well as do­ing the re­search he needed on prison breaks.

The film was shot on-lo­ca­tion in Pitts­burgh and South Amer­ica and prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy lasted 52 days which Hag­gis de­scribed as “a bit longer than usual for an in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion but then I re­alised I had over 300 scenes to shoot”.

Hag­gis, who is from London, On­tario, started his ca­reer as a tele­vi­sion writer in the late 1970s and his cred­its in­clude Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts Of Life, LA Law, thir­tysome­thing and Walker, Texas Ranger. His move from tele­vi­sion to film was, in part, in­spired by the suc­cess of Walker, Texas Ranger.

“I didn’t know the show was go­ing to be this huge suc­cess and yeah, my name is at­tached to it, so I didn’t want to be re­mem­bered solely for Walker, Texas Ranger. That’s when I de­cided to make my move to film and I wrote Crash,” he said.

Crash earned him the Academy Awards for Best Pic­ture and Best Orig­i­nal Screen­play in 2005 and the year be­fore that, he had writ-writ­ten Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby which also won Best Pic­ture. Hag­gis was later drafted in for “rein­vig­o­rat­ing the James Bond fran­chise” with Casino Royale.

“I de­rive a great amount of joy from writ­ing and I find di­rect­ing a great joy as well. It’s a very col­lab­o­ra­tive process,” he said.

When asked whether he had Crowe in mind when he was writ­ing The Next Three Days, Hag­gis said: “No, I don’t think of a role with an ac­tor in mind when I’m writ­ing. I think it’s a ter­ri­ble way to write some­thing with an ac­tor in mind be­cause all you’ll be think­ing about is what the ac­tor has done be­fore in other films.

“I fin­ished writ­ing the story and I thought of Rus­sell and I asked whether he would be in­ter­ested and he was, so that was great. I had a great time work­ing with him and I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing with him again in the fu­ture.” The Next Three Days opens in Malaysian cine­mas to­mor­row.

In the movie, English lit­er­a­ture teacher John Bren­nan (Rus­sell Crowe) plots to get his wife Lara (El­iz­a­beth Banks) out of prison.

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