The Next Three Days (film) Review
Hollywood has a big resurgence of films about people falsely convicted of crimes, and the attempts of their loved ones to set them free. Late this summer we were treated to Conviction, starring Hillary Swank, about a woman who spends two decades educating herself to free her brother from prison by a legislative methods.
This week saw the release of The Next Three Days, a Paul Haggis remake of French film Pour Elle; it follows a much more hands-on approach to prison liberation. Chronicling a dramatic prison heist from the outside in and featuring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, with a slightly campy cameo from Liam Neeson, The Next Three Days is unfortunately even more depressing than Conviction, yet borderline silly in action. There is a weird sense of faux-reality with this film, and it doesn't do the film any favors.
John and Lara Brennan (Crowe and Banks, respectively) are a happy couple with a fun sex life and a charming relationship with their son. However, it looks like Lara might be hiding something, as she's arrested and deemed guilty in murdering her co-worker. Three years later, with no hope of getting her out, John becomes the first community college Literature professor to spring his wife from prison.
The biggest problem with The Next Three Days is middling bloated elements in the center of the film. While the first portion introduces an interesting ambiguity that brings interest to the plight of the Brennans, and the last half hour is exciting and tense, the center arch of the film follows John's attempt to slowly plan his caper. Building YouTube-assisted bump keys and lifehacking tennis balls to unlock cars, there is a certain DIY-feel to his jury-rigged attempt at Lara's liberation While the rather stupid mistakes he makes offer some sort of stress and frustration that makes this portion of the movie tolerable, it's so poorly edited that one hopes John messes up and is arrested.
While Elizabeth Banks, leaving behind her more comedic standings in Hollywood for this drama, is as lovely and pretty as ever, she doesn't add much throughout the film. Most of the time she's in jail, and her incarceration provides the necessary conflict for Russell Crowe to fumble about with this prison heist from the outside. She and her son are only there to cause secondary conflict for the big heist scene, but it's a shame she couldn't be more central to the escape. The escape itself is surprisingly subdued, with lots of stressful walking and fake outs. Sure, cops run about and make hefty proclamations, but the slow and tense escape is surprisingly fresh. Had more of the central filling been edited out, we could have been left with a tighter and better film, instead one 20 minutes too long.
John Brennan's awkward attempts at freeing his wife come across as a little silly and over the top. Haggis guides Crowe as a fairly realistic middle-aged man, someone to connect with. The stupid mistakes he makes are no worse than the stupid mistakes any other normal person would make trying to free their loved one. It's just that the mistakes are drowning in John's uncomfortable attempts to figure things out how to crack the jail system in Philadelphia. John's problems are so isolated and depressing that it's not an exciting film; it's one mired in bleakness until the somewhat thrilling end.
While other reviewers have found the ending to be banal, Haggis has taken a more literal explanation over Lara's crime (as opposed to Pour Elle), I have no problem with a plain and clear ending. The Next Three Days ends with a clear message, and while a better film could have some ambiguity and create a more complex and thought provoking piece, The Next Three Days is not nearly smart or entertaining enough to have such complexity. Ending the movie explicitly is the best thing about it.