HBO // 2007 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // March 19th, 2008
What if everything you loved vanished in broad daylight?
HBO and the BBC, two networks long renowned for quality television, team up to co-produce Five Days, a five-part mini-series depicting the abduction of a mother and two of her children.
While out on a routine trip to visit her grandfather, Leanne (Christine Tremarco), a young mother of three, is abducted while purchasing flowers from a roadside vendor, leaving two of her young children behind in an abandoned car. The children then set out on their own and also go missing. Their cumulative disappearance launches a media frenzy and frantic police response. Additionally, Leanne's family -- crazed husband, angst-ridden teenage daughter, grieving parents, and dejected grandfather -- fight amongst themselves as they try to cope with the uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the stress of the case also affects those only tangentially related to Leanne: the detectives and reporters assigned to her case, concerned citizens, even the head of the local dog shelter. Over five non-consecutive days, Five Days depicts not only the search for the missing young woman and her children, but also the myriad of ways their disappearance traumatizes those involved in their case.
Five Days is not a typical mystery or suspense drama. It's not necessarily a whodunit, though we don't actually find out who did it until the very end, and it's never very suspenseful, though there are a few brief moments of surprise. Five Days instead chooses to focus on the heavy emotional toll of stress and trauma -- not only amongst family members, but also, in this case, the detectives, the press, and members of the general public.
So instead of the drama being generated in a forensic lab, it comes from the friction between a shell-shocked husband and his disaffected stepdaughter; or a weary police sergeant and his cynical deputy; or the head of the local dog shelter and, well, his dogs. Ultimately, Five Days is foremost an affecting drama about grief, and this is what makes it such a great success.
What the mini-series does so well is demonstrate how destructive grief can be to personal relationships. There are very few relationships amongst the characters in Five Days that do not deteriorate -- or flat-out combust -- following Leanne's abduction. While the popular depiction of people experiencing great trauma involves families coming together and forging even closer bonds, the truth as Five Days presents it is underrepresented in drama, but seems to be nearly as pervasive in real life. Thus, the mini-series manages to be not only real and revelatory, but also heart-wrenching.
That said, don't think that Five Days is overly heavy on the melodrama and devoid of suspense. While the action clearly isn't driven by a series of shocking developments, or even sometimes by plot itself, each episode does end in a cliffhanger. My wife, who initially seemed resistant to the restrained tone, stayed up until the early morning to finish the series, largely because each episode ended with an event that she thought would break the case wide open. However, like any good mystery, Five Days keeps the surprises coming until the very end. So ultimately, this is a mini-series that pulls off the difficult task of crafting a captivating plot and filling it out with an emotional core, one that will stay with you long after the crime has been solved.
As if often the case with HBO (and BBC) productions on DVD, Five Days offers very little in the way of extra features. The picture and sound are adequate, although the Southeastern England locations are so drab there really is nothing here worth seeing in high-definition.
I hate to be critical of children, but it must be said: in a drama so well-constructed and well-executed as Five Days, the actors playing Leanne's two young children, who seem to be about five and eight, respectively, deliver performances that seem almost out of step with the material. While the rest of the characters have dynamic and distinct personalities, the children seem to be young zombies unable to emotionally connect with anyone around them. In the few scenes where they do show emotion they appear to be young automatons trying to replicate broad human behavior. That said, I'm not sure if anyone would want young child actors deeply engaged with this sort of heavy material. So while it compromises the drama, maybe it was best for the actual children.
Five Days is a suspenseful mini-series that spends more time on the emotional fallout of the abduction than on the sensational aspects of the crime itself. This is to be commended. While many thrillers, even above-average ones, keep us on the edge of our seats, Five Days manages to be affecting and far more resonant than an episode of CSI ever could be. It is not to be missed.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Behind the Mystery with writer Gwyneth Hughes
* Official Site