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Premise: When a man’s wife is accused of murder, he takes drastic measures to get her out of prison.
About: This is Paul Haggis’ next project which will star Russel Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson. It is an adaptation of the French film, “Pour Elle.”
Writer: Paul Haggis (adapted from the movie Pour Elle, written by Fred Cavaye & Guillaume Lemans).
Details: 126 pages (2nd Draft, June 2009)
Unapologetic supporter of Crash here. I’ve heard so many bashers of that movie claiming ridiculous nonsense like, “It tells us nothing new about racism!” I didn’t see the film as a commentary on racism as much as a bunch of characters who found themselves in fucked up situations. There are still a few scenes from that movie I feel are the most well-crafted scenes of the last decade. It’s Haggis’ follow-up film, "In The Valley Of Elah," that I had issues with. That laborious piece of filmmaking about a father trying to solve the murder of his soldier son, had about as much drive as a public course golf cart. Talk about a movie that took its sweet time. Jeez! That cooled me on the former Scientologist but apparently not that much because I was eager to get my hands on The Next Three Days.
And which Haggis do we get here? Well, The Next Three Days’ heart is in the right place. I’m just not sure it’s big enough. Basically, the script asks the question: how would you really break someone out of jail? Not the movie version of how you’d do it. But if someone you loved was behind bars, how would you really go about trying to free them? And not just that. How would you get away with it? Could you manage all the meticulous painstaking details and planning required to stay invisible for the rest of your lives? That’s what The Next Three Days is about.
John and Laura are a young happy couple. They have nice jobs, a nice house, and a beautiful son. On the outside, there isn’t anything wrong with these two. But that all changes when (inside the first ten pages) detectives burst into their house and arrest Laura for the murder of her boss. The previous night, someone beat the woman with a fire extinguisher in the parking lot. And unlucky for Laura, it happened minutes after she had a heated fight with the woman. Not to mention she’d been seen by the janitor holding the murder weapon. Whether she actually did it or not is something we don’t find out until the very last page (and something I won’t reveal here).
John then finds himself caught up in the nightmare that is the U.S. legal system, bouncing back and forth between appeals, court dates, and his own desperate investigation. But in the end, the evidence is too overwhelming. Even John’s snarky lawyer tells him to look at it as if he’s not the husband. Translation: Maybe she did murder this woman.
When that vine has been plucked clean, John starts to formulate another plan. What if he could break Laura out? What if they could run away to another country, never to be seen again? He somehow stumbles across an ex-con who’s escaped jail seven times. They meet and John listens as the man lays out the tricks of the trade: looking for breaks in prison routine, exploiting weaknesses when they least expect it, realizing not just how to get out, but where to run to. And the most important thing of all - being psychologically ready for the way this will change your life. Could you live the rest of your life knowing that at any moment, someone could bust through the door and take you away? Uhh, I get angry if a friend bothers me in the middle of a Modern Warfare game. So that would be a big no for me.
This is where The Next Three Days spends most of its time and, as a result, suffers considerably in the momentum department. We get a lot of scenes of John visiting Laura in jail, casing the joint, meeting up with sketchy underground personalities to secure fake identification. Personally, I would’ve liked a big fat subplot here, because this portion of the script gets repetitive. There’s a cute single mom John keeps running into who I thought would be perfect to shake things up. Had they developed a friendship bordering on more between them, it could’ve been a nice deterrent, representing everything he’d be giving up by going through with this crazy plan.
Luckily the pacing is much faster here than In The Valley Of Elah, and this 126 page draft will no doubt be shortened to between 115 and 120 pages when they shoot it, which will at least partly take care of that middle act. In the end, I liked The Next Three Days because it comes at an old story from a new angle - realism. That as well as the lingering million dollar question - did she or didn't she kill her boss - ensures you'll be reading all the way to the final page.
The Next Three Days is worth the read and will likely be worth seeing as well.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Subplots! Make sure you have a few in the second act - If you’re writing a story with a slow burn, make sure to populate your script with a few subplots, because if the only thing we’re watching is your character trying to pursue his/her goal, that’s going to get old in a 60 page second act. Maybe you introduce a new relationship or friendship that shakes things up for your hero. Maybe one of your supporting characters is going through his own shit and that somehow affects your hero. But don’t use vast amounts of real estate to only explore your main character's objective. Chances are, we're going to need something extra to keep us interested.