The Next Three Days is a fairly run-of-the-mill but nevertheless sufficiently entertaining thriller from director Paul Haggis. It sees mild-mannered college teacher John Brennan, played with schlumpy ease by Russell Crowe, forced to turn to illegal tactics in order to free his wife Lara, Elizabeth Banks, from jail. Lara is imprisoned for the murder of her boss and the evidence is very much stacked against her. Faced with the possibility of her being behind bars for 20 years and the negative impact this will have on his young son’s life, John decides the only option is to break her out of prison.
As the drama progresses there are some minor twists and questions raised as to whether Lara really is innocent after all. On the whole however, it all just seems a little routine. Part one sees the set up, with the arrest, imprisonment and failed appeals all following standard ‘wronged man’ movie conventions. Part two sees John begin to make his plans to bust Lara out as he enters the Pittsburgh underworld in order to obtain the documents and tools he needs. Finally part three sees the escape itself. The whole affair is very A to B to C with no alarms and no surprises (to quote Radiohead).
Crowe can play this type of role in his sleep, and as the regular Joe whose life is left in ruins forcing him to take extraordinary steps, he is solid and convincing. Likewise, Banks takes on the role of the wrongly accused with ease, and the emotional scenes between the two of them in the prison visiting room are among the films best. Crowe’s transformation into action hero is handled well and it’s reassuring to see him fail and hit major roadblocks on his way to concocting the perfect plan to get Lara out. He isn’t shown as a genius or some clost criminal mastermind, he simply does what any one of us would do, he reads books, uses the internet and looks like a total fish-out-of-water mingling with the city’s criminal underworld.
That being said, one would hope that such a film would make you question your own ability to do the unthinkable if circumstance demanded it, but it somehow fails to do this, Crowe’s megastar presence is unavoidable and as well handled as his progression into action hero is, we are always very aware that we are watching Russell Crowe, he of Gladiator and Master and Commander fame. In many ways, a less well known actor may have been more effective as we wouldn’t posses any preconceptions regarding his character.
The rest of the cast do fade into the background somewhat. The various generic police men and women are fairly interchangeable, and the occasional hints that one cop is perhaps seeking to re-examine Lara’s case is painted in broad strokes and is never really fully fleshed out into a sub plot. Likewise, the young wife who Crowe befriends seems entirely superfluous and little more than brief eye candy.
The final escape section of the film does possess the odd little twist and can, on occasion, keep you guessing, but still somehow feels a little sluggish. By its conclusion you may either be willing them to succeed or even to get caught, but which ever it is you wish it would happen far quicker.
There’s no clever subtext here, no particular message to take away from the film, it is what it is, one man trying to bring his family back together. It’s a perfectly watchable thriller, an entertaining enough way to spend a couple of hours on a rainy night in, but don’t expect to have any repeat viewings, it is strictly a one-watch type of film.
The Next Three Days is out on DVD 16th May 2011.
Director: Paul Haggis
Cast: Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Banks