Directed by: Paul Haggis (In the Valley of Elah)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson
I guess we can chalk up The Next Three Days—Paul Haggis’ remake of Fred Cavaye’s 2008 French film Anything for Her—as a small victory. Here, we have director Paul Haggis attempting to make a movie that acts as entertainment and not a preachy social statement à la Crash (2004) and In the Valley of Elah (2007). And while this is certainly welcome, it’s still a Paul Haggis film—meaning, there are other issues.
The setup has John (Russell Crowe), a community-college English instructor, watch his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks, Role Models) being thrown in the clink for murdering her boss. Believing in her innocence, after exhausting all legal avenues, John decides to bust her out. The bulk of the movie involves John’s preparations (he learns how to jimmy car locks via YouTube, tries to hunt down fake passports etc.), followed by the actual jailbreak. The film starts off promisingly enough. We actually see Crowe being a personable performer, which is a rarity, and John’s preparations are occasionally interesting. We see what feels like his entire planning process—not just his successes, but his failures, too—which adds a real-world feel to the movie. Unfortunately, it’s also the film’s most glaring flaw.
We see so much that The Next Three Days soon scales the heights of tedium. For a thriller to truly work, it needs to be taut and efficient, two things Haggis doesn’t seem to understand. Instead, we wander around as John plans and plans, until all the tension is drained from the film. When we finally do get to the big climax (which also goes on too long), the payoff simply isn’t there. It isn’t as clever as it thinks is—or needs to be. A lot of this stems from Haggis’ weakness as a storyteller and his serious-minded nature. Not that this is a dour movie, but I can’t say it’s much fun either.
The real meat of the film is John’s unwavering faith in his wife’s innocence, even though the truth is never known for sure. For the bulk of the movie, the question of her innocence and the questions it in turn raises—such as the moral issue of John’s willingness to resort to violence and even murder, in spite of the fact that his wife might be guilty—are the most interesting aspects of The Next Three Days. That is, until the final scene undermines everything in a memorable bit of copping out.
Haggis does raise intriguing questions, but doesn’t bother to examine them. Instead, what we get is a basic thriller with few thrills and only a veneer of intelligence. Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements.