28 Days

28 Days (2000)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Steve Buscemi, Diane Ladd, Dominic West, Elizabeth Perkins, Viggo Mortensen
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Isolated Score,

Hollywood has a tendency to glamorize or exaggerate reality, especially when it comes to serious or sensitive issues. (Have you ever noticed how smoothly people break up in the movies?) Most of us watch movies to escape from reality, so even when a film deals with a touchy subject, the filmmakers will usually give it a nice, sugary coating. (Have you seen "The Other Sister"?) Of course, there have been plenty of films that have explicitly and realistically presented real-life situations, but audiences actually have a tendency to avoid such films. A true rarity is the film that can present an accurate portrayal of a real situation, while maintaining enough of a Hollywood sheen to keep things from getting too deep. The latest Sandra Bullock vehicle "28 Days", which has recently premiered on DVD, offers a view of substance abuse treatment that straddles realism and entertainment.

Sandra Bullock stars in "28 Days" as Gwen Cummings, a young, hip New Yorker who just happens to have a problem with alcohol and drugs. Things come to a head when she demolishes her sister Lily’s wedding and then crashes a stolen limousine into a house. Instead of being sent to jail, Gwen is sentenced to 28 days at the Serenity Glen rehab center. Once Gwen arrives at the center, she immediately makes it clear that she has no intention of attempting sobriety. She is rude to the other patients, ignores the rules, and receives narcotics from her boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West) when he visits. She even tries to scores some drugs from Cornell (Steve Buscemi) until she realizes that he’s her head counselor.

But soon, the reality of Gwen’s situation begins to hit her. She goes through physical withdrawals and through her therapy groups, she begins to see how her present behavior was affected by her childhood. Gwen also begins to bond with her roommate, Andrea (Azura Skye). Despite the help offered by Cornell and the other patients, and the bad advice from Jasper, Gwen soon realizes that if she is going to make a change in her life, it’s going to have to come from inside her.

When I’m not reviewing movies, I work in the substance abuse treatment field, so I was very anxious to view the film and see how the treatment was portrayed. As I mentioned earlier, "28 Days" walks that fine line between reality and Hollywood fiction. I was surprised by the accuracy of the scenes portraying Gwen’s time in the rehab center. The setting, the groups, and the interaction between the patients is dead-on accurate. As a rule, patients in substance abuse treatment programs are chain-smokers, never want to follow rules, hate to be confronted on their issues, and will do anything to sneak away and have sex. Kudos to writer Susannah Grant ("Erin Brokovich") for the accuracy and detail that went into these scenes. Also, praise must also go to director Betty Thomas ("Private Parts") who has been through treatment herself and used some of her own experiences in the film. And although Sandra Bullock isn’t perfect in her role, she does an admirable job of conveying certain aspects of the part, such as the agitation that accompanies detox and the desperation of someone who has reached rock-bottom.

While "28 Days" does a good job of showing what an inpatient program can be like, it cowtows to the Hollywood stereotype as well. The story is very trite and predictable, with many of the film’s events being telegraphed. While the performances by the other actors in the film are fine, especially Mike O’Malley stands out, the characters are very stereotypical and one-dimensional. And I realize that this is just a movie, but once Gwen decides to sober up, her treatment goes way too smoothly and loses any resemblance to what a real patient’s experience would be like. One of my biggest problems with the film is that it just sort of ends. The last third of the film feels very truncated and then the movie just ends. We have an idea of what Gwen’s future will be like, but it also feels like the filmmakers ran out of film and decided to end the movie on a very odd note.

The DVD of "28 Days" from Columbia TriStar Home Video is a special edition which offers some nice features. The film itself is offered in a <$PS,letterboxed> format at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. It is very clear, and free from noise or grain, as should be expected from a recent major studio release. Also, being a brand new movie, there are no defects from the source print. The letterboxing appears to be accurate as there is no visible loss of information at the sides of the screen. Director Betty Thomas has used some video elements in the movie and even these come across looking quite good. The color balancing appears accurate and the beautiful, lush mountains of North Carolina look very nice on this transfer. There are no obvious problems caused by artifacting or compression problems. Overall, this digital transfer looks quite nice and offers an optimal viewing medium for this film.

The audio on Columbia TriStar Home Video’s "28 Days" is presented as a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix, which serves the film quite well. The surround sound has been mixed very discreetly, so we are offered crowd noises and nature sounds when appropriate, but nothing overwhelming. The dialogue is always clear and audible, which is very important in this film. There is no audible hiss from the soundtrack. There is also an isolated track featuring the score by composer Richard Gibbs, which is also offered in Dolby Digital 5.1.

The DVD brings us an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring director Betty Thomas, producer Jenno Topping, composer Richard Gibbs, and editor Peter Teschner. The quartet speak throughout the film and are very lively, keeping most of the comments scene specific. There is quite a bit of "I wish we would have done this here…" done in the commentary and Thomas seems to be second-guessing the entire film. The most interesting part of the commentary is that Thomas is already aware of what will need to be cut from "28 Days" for its network TV premiere, and some of the very tame things that must be trimmed are fascinating. This commentary is interesting and informative, but at times awkward, due to the critiquing of the film itself.

There are five deleted scenes, which are disguised as other features. Throughout the film, different characters would speak into the camera about themselves. The "Character Testimonials" section simply offers three of these testimonials that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film. Also, Loudon Wainwright III appears in the film as "Guitar Guy", a patient who is always singing about addiction. Two of his songs were excised from the film and are featured in the "Guitar Guy’s Lost Songs" section of the DVD. The theatrical trailer for "28 Days", which is also included on the DVD, shows some shots which aren’t in the film, so one can’t help but wonder why more deleted scenes aren’t on the DVD.

In the movie, the characters watch a soap opera called "Santa Cruz." The DVD has a special feature that gives us more footage from this fictional show. This is mildly interesting, mostly because it features real soap stars and we get to see Thomas directing them. The "HBO First Look" is a 15-minute featurette that gives us behind-the-scene footage from the making of "28 Days" and offers extensive interviews with the cast and crew. And finally, the DVD includes talent files, which offers career highlights and filmographies.

While "28 Days" isn’t perfect, it does give us a fairly accurate view of what it’s like when someone enters substance abuse treatment. The film does ultimately enter a fantasy world, but it offers some nice performances and confident direction from Betty Thomas. The DVD of "28 Days" brings the viewer a very nice transfer, with a clear image and good sound. The extras on the DVD leave a bit to be desired, but the sheer volume of them make this DVD worth checking out.