Review: The Next Three Days
PLOT: John Brennan's (Russell Crowe) family is torn apart when his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested, tried, and convicted for a murder she didn't commit. Desperate to reunite his family, John hatches a daring plan to bust her out of prison, but first he'll be pushed to do things he never thought himself capable of, such as murder.
REVIEW: THE NEXT THREE DAYS is Paul Haggis' long awaited return to the director's chair. A remake of a recent French hit, POUR ELLE, THREE DAYS is a more obviously commercial film than the Oscar-winning CRASH, or IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH-helmer has done in the past. However, one must not forget that Haggis also wrote the last two Bond films, CASINO ROYALE, and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, so obviously the guy knows a thing or two about crafting an action thriller.
Going into this, I was a little skeptical as to whether or not it would deliver. I like Haggis, and I love both Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks. My issue was that the French film it's based on is pretty heavily flawed. Sure, it was entertaining, but it had some pretty big plot holes, and a ridiculously abrupt ending. Luckily, Haggis has fixed a lot of what was wrong with the earlier film, and managed to pull of a rare feat, in that he's actually improved upon the film he's remaking.
It helps that he has two incredible actors in the two lead roles, giving the film a much-needed heft. This is a departure for Crowe, who these days seems to either chose character parts, such as STATE OF PLAY, or TENDERNESS, or action epics like ROBIN HOOD, 3:10 TO YUMA, or the gangland saga AMERICAN GANGSTER. A somewhat lower-key thriller like this actually suits him quite well. For one thing, he's extremely convincing as a loving husband and father, and he also manages to convey a high level of intelligence that helps make some of his MACGUYER-esque tactics in the escape more believable. A few of them, like using a tennis ball to break into a car (trust me, it makes sense when you see it), actually seem pretty ingenious, although I have no idea whether any of them could actually work in real life.
Of course, Crowe's also very adept at action. While there are no epic gunfights, or car chases, there are a few quick action beats that are low-key enough to seem somewhat believable but still pack a punch, and Crowe's intensity suits these sequences quite well.
As for Banks, well, what can I say? I adore this woman. For years, I've had a massive fanboy crush on her (going all the way back to WET, HOT, AMERICAN SUMMER). While she's mostly known as a fantastically funny comedienne, she proves herself more than up to the challenge of a dramatic role. She has a few really good scenes where Crowe visits her in prison, and she tries to affect a harder exterior in order to push him away so he can rebuild his life without her. Overall, a wonderful performance from Banks, and one that I'm sure will earn her more dramatic roles in the future.
The supporting cast is also pretty tight. The two highest profile actors here are Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde. While both are heavily featured in ads for the film, I'm afraid they have pretty brief roles. Wilde's is a thankless part that seems a bit tacked on, while Neeson's is just a cameo as an ex-prison escapee who gives Crowe some pointers. Meatier supporting roles go to vets like Brian Dennehy as Crowe's father (they really do look like they could be father and son), and Daniel Stern, who has one great scene as Crowe's compassionate lawyer.
Being a Paul Haggis film, we also get a few directorial flourishes that give the film a bit of flavor it might not have had in the hands of a more journeyman director. A lot of time is spent on the police investigating Banks, as well as their eventual pursuit of Crowe, and they're portrayed three-dimensionally. His use of music is also very effective, especially with the inclusion of a few great Moby tracks. Most importantly, he spends a lot of time make the escape seem somewhat plausible, which is a lot more than POUR ELLE did, with more strategic planning from Crowe as opposed to pure dumb luck in the original film.
All in all, THE NEXT THREE DAYS is a really solid thriller along the lines of THE FUGITIVE or FRANTIC (indeed, if this had been made 10-20 years ago, it would have been a perfect Harrison Ford vehicle). It's not without a few minor problems, as it's a tad too long at 130 minutes, and, of course, the whole scenario begs for major suspension of disbelief. Still, it's a fun, entertaining ride, and solid counter-programming to HARRY POTTER.
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