Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
The Next Three Days (2010)
Paul Haggis’s “The Next Three Days” is an interesting combination of two different genres. For about three-quarters of its runtime, it’s a drama about a man pouring through many meticulous details in order to save his wife, whereas the last quarter of the film is a non-stop action thrill ride. Surprisingly, the two parts work very well together in such a way that you barely notice the change from one to the other, not that you’ll really be thinking about that when the time comes and the thrills begin.
The film begins with John Brennan (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) at dinner with some friends of theirs where we learn that Lara is having problems with her boss. The very next day, police arrive to take Lara away, claiming that she is under arrest for her boss’s murder. The evidence seems stacked against her: the victim’s blood on her coat, Lara’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, and a witness seeing her leave the scene. Yet, John is convinced that she couldn’t have done it.
After their lawyer appears to have given up all hope, John takes it upon himself to get her out of jail. In order to do this, he consults Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a man who has escaped from multiple jails and is able to give John a complete rundown of things he will need to do to pull off an escape. With all the preparations in place, the only thing left for John to do is to begin his complicated plan and hope that all goes well.
The first part of the film acts as more of a set-up with far less action than the second, but it manages never to be boring. The scene with Neeson as the escape artist is particularly interesting as we get to hear several surprising details that John might have not thought of otherwise including how the entire city (Pittsburg in this case) can be sealed off in 15 minutes and how a simple break in a prison routine can be the chance he needs.
This part also acts as a kind of character study of a man who is willing to do whatever is necessary to free his wife from a life sentence in jail. This includes putting not only their lives on the line, but also the life of their son, Luke (Ty Simpkins). Before John’s plan can even be hatched he has to know exactly what happens and when, not to mention having to procure fake passports and having enough money left over to live off of.
There’s been some talk of how implausible much of this plot is, particularly pertaining to the last 30 minutes that detail the actual escape attempt. Sure, a lot of it is completely implausible, but that’s completely missing the point which is to build up a good amount of thrills. Haggis does this quite well as he intercuts between John and his family trying to get away and the cops who are hot on their trail. Haggis is no stranger to thrills such as these having co-written one of the best James Bond films around, “Casino Royale.” There are even a few smaller thrills to be had in his film “Crash,” for which he won two Oscars.
Crowe is able to pull off the determination of the character quite well. Most of us are probably used to seeing him play the tough guy in films like “Gladiator,” “Robin Hood,” or “Master and Commander.” However, for this film, I kept being reminded of his role in “The Insider,” another story of an ordinary man going through extraordinary circumstances. It may not have been about trying to break someone out of prison, but it was extremely riveting none the less.
The last part of the story is what really sells this film. It’s the kind of edge of your seat thriller that leaves you in constant suspense of how the situation will resolve. It leaves you guessing at every turn and it’s what makes sitting through those slower 90 minutes worth it. It may not be the greatest or most original thriller, but when all was said and done, it had been quite an entertaining one. 3/4 stars.