A film review by Craig J. Koban November 26, 2010
THE NEXT THREE DAYS
2010, PG-13, 133 mins.
2010, PG-13, 133 mins.
John Brennan: Russell Crowe / Lara Brennan: Elizabeth Banks / George
Brennan: Brian Dennehy / Damon Pennington: Liam Neeson / Nicole:
Olivia Wilde / Luke: Ty Simpkins
Haggis’ THE NEXT THREE DAYS is a thriller about a Pennsylvanian
community college Professor that – through some guts, perseverance, and
much guidance from You Tube – hatches a plan to break his wife out of
prison because all other legal options have failed.
This is a competent and well directed thriller with decided echoes
of Hitchcock, especially for the manner it grounds its narrative in the
vein of an everyday, ordinary man caught in problematic circumstances not
of his own doing. The
performances by both lead actors are also resoundingly strong and
credible, but it’s just a real shame that the overall story for THE NEXT
THREE DAYS begins to crumble for a lack of credibility altogether,
especially during it’s final 30 minutes, during which it becomes too
preposterous to be taken seriously.
is a writer/director of a highly respected and competent pedigree that
needs to make no apologies (see his directorial efforts like CRASH and IN
THE VALLEY OF ELAH or his terrific scripts for films as far
ranging as MILLION DOLLAR BABY,
THE LAST KISS, and CASINO
ROYALE) but his screenplay for THE NEXT THREE DAYS – an
adaptation of the 2007 French film, POUR ELLE (ANYTHING FOR HER) – does
the rich and engrossing performances a disservice by not grounding them in
an equally empowered narrative. The resulting film leaves viewers feeling more than a bit
off-center throughout: Haggis is a revered director of actors, and stars
Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks keep the human interest level high
throughout, but when you start to disbelieve the trajectory of the story
they populate, you can’t help but feel a bit cheated in the end.
film also makes some odd and distracting narrative timeline jumps: it
begins with a scene that is about a third of the way through the story and
then flashes back to the past and then meets up with it later on until
it culminates in the final act. The
first scene shows John (Russell Crowe, a rare actor that can play ruggedly
tough action heroes and completely dweeby schlubs) covered in
blood, driving erratically, and screaming to his unidentified occupant
that is laying in the back seat and most likely dying.
We then flashback to a moment when John and his luminously beautiful, but
headstrong and opinionated wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks,
perhaps one of the very few bombshell actresses that can effectively
navigate between raunchy comedy and seriously drama) are out dining with
some friends. Laura in
particular is in a very foul mood because of a rather large argument she
just had at work with her boss. By
the time the couple awake from bed the next morning and prepare for the
workday, police swarm over their middle-upper class home with a warrant
and arrest Laura for the murder of her boss.
evidence against Laura seems to definitely point towards her guilt: the
victim’s blood is found on her coat and her fingerprints were on the
murder weapon. Yet, she professes her innocence to her husband and John –
perhaps using love over logic – is persuaded of her absolute innocence.
Ultimately, love and faith don’t matter, because Laura is found
guilty and sentenced to a very length prison term.
John has made numerous attempts to plea with his attorney (very
well played in a brief cameo by Daniel Stern), who in turn informs him
that all other legal options have been used.
John wants to go to the Supreme Court, a proposition that is not
met with much hope by his attorney. As
a result, John decides to go to more…shall we say…extreme measures.
he decides to have coffee with an ex-con turned author named Damon,
played with a gravel voiced gravitas and immense charisma by Liam Neeson,
who utterly owns the film during his few minutes of screen time.
Damon was a con that did manage to escape from prisons that we once
thought to be airtight, and he politely answers all of John’s
queries about what would be required in order to spring his wife. The lessons that Damon imparts on John are kind of
hilariously silly, but when an actor with the presence and resolve of
Neeson utters them, you really buy their credence more than you should. Nonetheless, John decides at this point that he will break
his wife out of prison, but even with the guidance of Damon, John is by no
means a jailbreaking expert.
takes all of Damon’s advice to heart – like the need to have just the
right keys, just the right cash flow, just the right escape exits, just
the right phony passports and social security numbers, and finally travel
to just the right nation that has no formal extradition treaty with the
U.S.. Damon also warns John
that he will have 15 minutes after the escape before the police will have
all nearby roads blocked and that it will take 35 minutes for descriptions
of him and Laura to be posted at most airports, train stations, and bus
terminals. John, in order to
not forget this info, writes the numbers 15 and 35 on his wrist during the
escape attempt, but considering that he is a fairly intelligent scholar,
you would think that he could commit those times to memory.
of the more interesting angles to THE NEXT THREE DAYS is that John is sort
of a bumbling incompetent when it comes to the initial planning of the
escape. This is not a man that becomes a jailbreaking maestro overnight and he does make some categorical errors early on. Yet, as he starts to take Damon’s advice – and a lot of
advice from the Internet – he begins to methodically craft his plan.
A few problems arise, though, like the fact that Laura has
attempted suicide and her mental faculties are starting to seriously
subside, not to mention that bringing their young son adds another complex
layer of moral baggage. Nonetheless,
after a series of setbacks and amateurish mistakes, John finally enacts
his labyrinthian plot to secure his wife’s freedom and get them the hell
out of the U.S. as quickly as possible.
I really admired the chief performances here: Crowe is more than equal to
the task of creating a multi-faceted man of confusion, fear, anxiety, anger,
and ultimately determination that starts as a nobody schmo and then
becomes a serious, no-holds-barred man of action.
Banks’ casting is kind of captivating here: she plays a drop dead
gorgeous wife at first that later morphs into a dreary, downtrodden and
defeated prisoner that feels that her life is over.
I was taken in by how quietly sturdy and dramatically persuasive
she was in the film, especially when I tend to think of her lately as a
comedic actress. She
has never been more raw and convincing.
I just had too much difficulty getting over the gigantic chasms of logic
that the film wants us to leap over.
I was willing to buy into Crowe’s Prius driving, emotionally
diminutive college lecturer turning into a seditious criminal mastermind,
but there were times when he engages in actions that could only be
attributed to a character pigeonholed into "The Idiot Plot Syndrome”
(like, for example, a terribly impromptu experience he has robbing a
crystal meth lab for cash where he does not in any way conceal his
identity). John’s final
plan – which I will not reveal in detail here – is kind of fiendishly
ingenious and hectically suspenseful in its implementation and execution
while simultaneously feeling completely outlandish.
It’s an undeniably jolt to see Haggis drum up the tension and
escalating dread of “will they, or won’t they escape” in the
film’s final section, and the manner John engages is shrewd misdirection
is kind of exhilarating, but too much absurd levels of contrivance and
convenience punctuate the escape, especially with the side-story of
the police detectives hot on the couple’s trail.
After while, my excitement gave way to heavy eye rolling.
is also one large issue with Haggis’s film, and that concerns the way he
really deceives and manipulates the audience in terms of Laura’s guilt
or innocence. Now, a vastly
more intriguing idea would have been to never reveal whether she did it or
not, which potentially could have made John’s jailbreak attempt seem
that much more narrow mindedly fanatical.
The evidence against this woman is absolutely damning, and Haggis
provides a nifty little black and white sequence that seems to
specifically point one way and really throws us off, and then – at the
end of the film – we revisit the same flashback via a different
viewpoint that radically clears up our bewilderment. I found that to be pointlessly manipulative and intolerably
telegraphed move on Haggis' part.
By showing the first misdirected flashback you more than expect a
later flashback to correct everything that the first one presented. Removing both would have eliminated this issue altogether.
Ultimately, though, that would not be enough to override THE NEXT THREE DAYS’ flaws. What we are left with is an exemplary acted film with some fine directorial touches trapped in a silly script that is not up to par with the talent on board. Haggis, in particular since he served as screenwriter, should have also known better.