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 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.