Title: The Next Three Days
Directed By: Paul Haggis
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Jonathan Tucker, Brian Dennehy, Lennie James, RZA, Jason Beghe, Ty Simpkins
It’s one thing to walk into a drama and get a little action, but when you opt to check out a thriller that winds up being more of a drama, it’s a bit too difficult to adjust. Making it harder to appreciate a drama with a thrilling twist is a lengthy presentation. There’s a lot that works in The Next Three Days, if only director Paul Haggis had paid more attention to keeping a proper pace, perhaps that drama would have created more suspense and risen to the level of the film’s more exhilarating moments. Instead we’re left with something that isn’t quite dramatic or thrilling and doesn’t strike a chord as much as it could have.
Life is good for the Brennan family, but when Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is dragged out of her house by police officers as her young son looks on, they’re existence becomes anything but ideal. John (Russell Crowe) misses Lara terribly and Luke (Ty Simpkins) refuses to even look at his mother when they go to visit. Lara claims she didn’t commit the crime, but the evidence against her is overwhelming. John soon realizes there is no way to get Lara out of prison – legally.
The central plot of The Next Three Days is beautifully simple; a man’s wife is wrongly accused of a crime and the only way they can be a family again is by breaking her out. The problem is, it takes an awfully long time to get there. The opening sequence is fantastic. We get a very brief, but telling dinner scene during which Lara has a harsh yet amusing argument with her sister-in-law followed by a typical morning in the Brennan household. Unfortunately, breakfast doesn’t last long and a barrage of officers demolishes the serene setting. After Lara’s taken away, that’s about it in terms of action for quite a while.
Most of the second act of the film consists of John sulking, which transitions into John plotting. The concept of breaking a loved one out of prison may be interesting, but in The Next Three Days, figuring out the logistics of such a feat is astonishingly dull. Haggis’ tendency to linger on uninteresting imagery could have easily slowed the film to an unbearable pace, but there are quite a few elements in the story that stand out enough to hold your attention. First off, the moments involving both John and Lara are electric. From the pain of John watching on as Lara tries to kiss their son to the heart-wrenching scene when she finds out their lawyer can’t get her out, it’s impossible not to sympathize with her character. Then there’s a few more physical moments involving Crowe’s character that are quite tense, like an instance during which he attempts to put a self-made “bump key” to use and another when he takes revenge on a pair of not-so-nice drug dealers.
Regardless of the success of those scenes, John is a fairly weak character. Other than his intense love for his wife, there’s really nothing to like about him. He’s generally expressionless and overall a dull guy. Perhaps Haggis told Crowe to play John as though losing his wife sucked the life out of him, but whether he did or not, on screen it just appears as though Crowe is bored with the role. Banks, on the other hand, is fantastic. Even without much screen time and not knowing whether or not her character is innocent, Banks manages to earn your compassion right from the start, keeping concern for her sake high throughout. It’s this anxiety that keeps the viewer engaged with John’s side of the story. We need him to succeed so the character we actually care about can go home.
The only reason to mention the supporting cast, is to point out how poorly their characters were developed. Every cop is absolutely useless. They could have been faceless operatives in SWAT helmets and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Then there’s poor Brian Dennehy who plays John’s father and is reduced to a mute man forced to get his point across using loads of looks of disappointment. The sole minor player to make an impression is Jonathan Tucker’s character, David. He’s one of those nasty drug dealers that rubs John the wrong way. Even with just a few minutes of screen time, Tucker presents this minimal character as a person with many dimensions, one of which actually earns your sympathy despite his deplorable behavior earlier in the film.
The Next Three Days is packed with problems, but has enough good in it to make it a worthwhile film. It’s really too bad too because had Haggis been forced to cut it down to a 90 minute film, it’s likely those extraneous moments would have been the first to go. Banks is getting most of the credit in this case, for if it weren’t for her performance, you’d rather just see her character rot in jail to get out of having to watch Crowe mull over his plan a minute longer. Thanks to her, there’s enough emotional development to keep your heart in it, which forces you to keep your mind in it as well.
By Perri Nemiroff