Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul Haggis

Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Ty Simpkins, Olivia Wilde, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds, Brian Dennehy, Helen Carey, Liam Neeson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 11/19/10

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 18, 2010

There are no ethical concerns or moral questions to be had in The Next Three Days, and for the story co-writer/director Paul Haggis (writing the screenplay with Fred Cavayé, upon whose 2008 film Pour elle (Anything for Her) this one is based) is telling, it's appropriate. The story is about a woman wrongly imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit, but there are no debates about the failings of the justice system. It's about a man who behaves in ways he might have once considered repulsive, but after the initial second thoughts, when faced with the aftereffects of his actions, he does not consider the effect on himself.

Sometimes the wrong people are put in jail, and sometimes people do things in extraordinary circumstances they wouldn't do otherwise. These are taken as fixed truths, and Haggis and Cavayé's script uses them as the shell to encase pieces of the ticking clock that is the film's plot.

The device is anchored by Russell Crowe as John Brennan, the husband of Laura (Elizabeth Banks), who is in jail for a murder he is convinced she did not commit. No one else believes it. Even Laura has grown exhausted by the process. Her attorney (Daniel Stern) is appealing the case mainly for John's benefit. Her mother has not visited in the three years since her conviction. John's parents (Helen Carey and Brian Dennehy) wish he would move on. Even Laura and John's six-year-old son Luke (Ty Simpkins) sits quietly on the side, playing with toys, during his weekly visit with his dad. The kid stands up for her when other kids say something mean, but, for all intents and purposes, he doesn't have a mother.

Crowe plays John as more of a mouse than a lion. He's an English teacher, analyzing Don Quixote's penchant for living in a reality of his own creation in a way that, of course, relates to his own windmill-chasing. His pained face gives away the news of the loss of Laura's appeal to her before he can say a word. When he buys a gun, he asks the dealer where to put the bullets.

After all available legal routes lead to dead ends, John begins to research prison breaks, meets with an expert in the subject (Liam Neeson), and begins to plan a way to free his wife. The rules surrounding the escape are simple: Fifteen minutes after the alarm first goes up, the bridges heading out of downtown are closed off; twenty minutes later, it's best to turn yourself in, the authority on the subject tells John. At that point, any way out of the city—airport, train station, etc.—will be shut down, and the cops will shoot you and anyone else with you.

With those parameters in mind, John's visits take on a new goal. He starts spotting the positions of security cameras. He begins timing the routines of guards. He spots ways in and out. The web becomes his best friend, as he finds online videos with such helpful tips as how to make a "bump key" to open any lock of a certain type and how to break into a car using a tennis ball.

He begins prowling the streets at night, trying to find a drug dealer who knows a guy who can make decent forged identification, and that part of the scheme leads to an odd diversion—a loud, violent shoot-out in a flaming house with a meth lab in the basement that turns John into a murderer (Sure, it's killing in self-defense, but there wouldn't be any need if not for his prior actions). It's off-putting among the rest of the film, which occasionally allows its characters to speak without using words. A few scenes between John and Laura say volumes about their relationship without dialogue, and there's a moment between John and his father in which the latter shows understanding, respect, and maybe even a bit of admiration for his son without either opening his mouth.

Crowe is the glue holding the characters' relationships and the plot's hypothetical motions (Maybe he'll get her out like this, or maybe it'll be like that, and it's certain there's a reason he's doing those other things) until the climactic escape. Haggis and Cavayé don't cheat in the plan. Every step has been displayed in one form or another by then, and the way Banks plays Laura with furious disbelief at her husband adds a brief but honest hiccup in the machine. Even John's major dilemma, deciding whether to risk the entire plan to pick up his son at an unexpected location, has been established by Neeson's specialist beforehand. The cops, introduced bluntly in the middle, on the other hand, are too many caricatures of consummately professional incompetence.

Haggis has a case of tunnel-vision in The Next Three Days, a sense that nothing extraneously lofty will get in the way (some of the final moments, trying to tag an overarching theme of chance, come close). It's as narrow-minded as its hero in that way and maybe a better film for it.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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