Saturday 30 October 2021

Movie Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

A prison escape thriller, The Next Three Days features an ordinary man hatching an extraordinary plot to save his wife from a life behind bars.

In Pittsburgh, John and Lara Brennan (Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks) are a typical middle class couple raising their young son Luke. John is a community college teacher and Lara is an office worker, but their life is suddenly turned upside down when she is arrested and convicted for murdering her boss, a crime she strenuously denies committing. But with circumstantial evidence stacked against her, all appeals are denied.

In desperation, John consults with prison escape expert Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), and starts to plan a breakout for Lara. He surveils the prison to identify weak points, attempts to buy forged papers from dangerous underworld types, and sells the house to raise money, all while holding onto his job, caring for Luke as a single parent, and regularly visiting Lara without revealing what he is up to. John's amateurish mistakes threaten his plan and endanger his life, but when he learns Lara will be transferred to another prison, he is forced to act.

Written and directed by Paul Haggis and delivered in a measured flashback structure, The Next Three Days is a remake of the 2008 French movie Pour Elle. This is a well-paced and tense thriller, building excitement around a familiar couple thrust into an existential crisis. The deep connection between husband and wife infuses John's otherwise insane quest with nobility, and the film asks how far an ordinary man will go to save his wife. The answer passes through plenty of bungling and missteps, providing the narrative with a thread of anxious fragility. 

The plot rides on John's everyman attributes as an undoubtedly smart man also indisputably out of his depth, and Russell Crowe admirably sinks into the role. This is Crowe with grim determination, an amateur's fresh set of eyes, some beginner's luck, and little else, starting from a clean slate of inexperience to try and devise an audacious breakout. Haggis wrestles dangerous charm out of his antics, but also pushes too hard in some muddled entanglements with thug-types.

Other less than stellar moments include patchy representations of police work consisting of several undefined detectives running in different directions, and only an abstract recreation of the trigger crime event with no sympathy for the victim.

Elizabeth Banks contributes steel and passion, but fades out for long stretches. The cast also includes Brian Dennehy as John's emotionally distant father and Olivia Wilde as a single mom in John's neighbourhood. With small but pivotal contributions, both will influence the outcome. 

The final third switches gears into the electrifying escape-in-progress, Haggis disclosing just enough about John's plan to confirm all will not go well. Unexpected twists and detours demand on-the-fly improvisation, and as John and Lara attempt to navigate their way out of a difficult maze, The Next Three Days deploys deliciously surprising ploys. An amateur has no clue but also no preconceptions, and the uncertainty delivers manic enjoyment.

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