Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy, Daniel Stern, Kevin Corrigan
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Lionsgate Films
Reviewed by Jason Newman
ith the recent release of Tony Goldwyn's "Conviction" and now Paul Haggis' "The Next Three Days," all we need is one more prison breakout film of the season to officially have a trend. But unlike Goldwyn's earnest, if maudlin, melodrama about a woman who puts herself through law school in an attempt to release her brother from jail, "The Next Three Days" takes the opposite crash course approach, positioning Russell Crowe as the archetypal man WHO HAS HAD ENOUGH! and tries to spring his wife from prison via a daring and improbable scheme.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Crowe is John Brennan, a community college teacher and all-around average Joe living with his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and young child Luke in Pittsburgh. When Lara is arrested one day for the murder of her boss (with whom she had gotten into a fight with earlier that day), the evidence is damning, though not overwhelming. The victim's blood on Lara's shirt. Lara's fingerprints on the murder weapon. Regardless, Lara is sent to jail and eventually loses her final shot at appeal, essentially guaranteeing a life sentence. Is she guilty? Who knows? That's not really the point. Haggis chooses to omit any trial or sentencing scenes in order to focus on John and Lara's mental anguish, increasing despair and lack of viable options.
With his life slowly crumbling, John goes the desperate husband/batshit crazy route, devoting his life and resources to busting Lara out of prison. Haggis' circuitous story sees John buying fake identity documents from shady guys in bars, studying aerial shots of the prison while ostensibly teaching class, and creating a Rommel-like plan of execution on his bedroom wall – replete with copious maps, photos and notes – with the dedication of a 13-year-old's ode to Justin Bieber. When John discovers, after constant escape planning, that Lara is to be suddenly transferred, he has the titular amount of time to execute his plan.
Crowe pretty much owns "brooding" at this point, but plays the "Good man put in unexpected, extreme situation" role well; an equal mix of Michael Douglas in "Falling Down" and Liam Neeson in "Taken." (The latter making a cameo as an escaped con who advises John on escape strategies.) No one can do broken like Crowe. But in creating a combination thriller/character study, Haggis overplays his hand, not giving the ensemble cast enough material to work with to distinguish themselves. We meet four cops investigating John, yet all of them "appear" rather than get introduced. As the film shifts from a prison breakout thriller to a cat-and-mouse action film, there's little audience investment in anyone other than John. The mouse can only mean so much if no one cares about the cat.
But as thrilling as some of the scenes are in "The Next Three Days" – and suspension of disbelief is understandably an action film prerequisite – the major problem lies in the sheer improbability of everything happening exactly as Crowe hopes it does. In films like "Escape from Alcatraz" and "The Shawshank Redemption," the protagonist relies more on internal control than external forces, yet having Crowe's plan succeed would be like setting up an 100-piece Rube Goldberg and expecting it to work on the first try.
The solid first half of setup in Haggis' film is derailed by a second half that feels made up as it went along ("Now let's have him burn down a meth lab!") and a mildly interesting premise devolves into standard Hollywood trope. It's like Haggis, who also wrote the screenplay, couldn't decide between action thriller and the moral complexities that drive decent men to commit unlawful acts. He admirably tries for both but falls short on either.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release of “The Next Three Days” offers a solid collection of bonus material, including an audio commentary with director Paul Haggis, producer Michael Nozik and editor Jo Francis, and an 18-minute making-of featurette, both of which touch briefly on the fact that it’s a remake of the French film, “Pour Elle.” There’s also a short featurette on the male cast (why Elizabeth Banks is ignored is beyond me), a look at real-life stories of love-fueled prison breaks, some deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, and a DVD and digital copy of the movie.