Review: The Next Three Days

Posted: November 19, 2010 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,

Elizabeth Banks and Russell Crowe in The Next Three DaysLove is a powerful thing. It often defies reason and makes a person do things not in his/her character. But how far will certain people go for the one they love? John Brennan is willing to lie, steal and kill for his wife. But the question becomes whether she wants him to do these things for her.

Life seems perfect for John Brennan (Russell Crowe) until his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is arrested for a gruesome murder she says she didn’t commit. Three years into her sentence, John is struggling to hold his family together, raising their son and teaching at college while he pursues every means available to prove her innocence. With the rejection of their final appeal, Lara becomes suicidal and John decides there is only one possible, bearable solution: to break his wife out of prison. Refusing to be deterred by impossible odds or his own inexperience, John devises an elaborate escape plot and plunges into a dangerous and unfamiliar world, ultimately risking everything for the woman he loves.

This film is carried by great performances. Crowe is relatively quiet unless he is talking to his son or lecturing a class about Don Quixote (in which a parallel is being made between his character and Miguel de Cervantes’ character’s irrationality). His silent but aggressive determination is captivating. It is this expressive quality as an actor that makes even his action roles in historical epics standout. Brian Dennehy is even better playing the part of John’s stoic father; but when he does speak, it means all the more. Ty Simpkins, who plays John’s son, also has minimal dialogue but is impressive at such a young age in such a serious role. Banks is definitely cast against type in her role as a convict, but she delivers surprisingly well.

The film is solid, but a bit too long. The source material is a film called Pour Elle (or Anything for Her) and its filmmaker may have had the right idea at keeping the film around the 90-minute mark. While The Next Three Daysdisplays John’s efforts and sets up the events of the film’s thrilling final act, it does so in sometimes painstaking detail. It attempts to show how an educator can transform into a cold, calculating lawbreaker, but there was surely a shorter way of illustrating this revolution. Furthermore, one has to actually believe a regular guy who’s had no exposure to the world’s seedy underbelly until now is capable of making this transformation in a matter of a few months with only the advice of an ex-con and YouTube.

The film’s dialogue is riddled with witty sarcasm between the loving couple. But more powerful are the extreme silences in important scenes. Writer/director Paul Haggis was in attendance for a Q&A after the screening and he admitted to cutting dialogue while shooting because he acknowledged the power of these characters’ silence. Unfortunately, it made him feel “good as a director, but not so good as a writer.” Luckily for the audience Haggis is able to view his work objectively and make these decisions from a directorial standpoint, not just as a writer attached to his words.

Audience members were struck by the film’s ambiguity and some of the significant coincidences that take place. Lara’s innocence is in question right to the end of the film because of the various scenarios shown of the murder of which she’s accused. In addition, John’s plans are hampered by various coincidences that feel artificial. In response, Haggis said, “I think coincidence is fine if it works against the protagonist.” He believes as long as it makes things harder rather than easier that it’s acceptable. He makes a good point, but more of an attempt may also be necessary to make the scene feel less manufactured.

While the intertitles refer to the last three years, months and days, the picture’s title is The Next Three Days. Haggis explained that he hoped the film’s conclusion would spark a conversation. In addition, he feels the days following the movie’s credits will be as interesting, if not more so, than the three years preceding the end. To say more would be a disservice, but he may be right.

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