Next Three Days, TheReviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 11/19/10 16:00:00
“This guy’s a schoolteacher?” asks one cop to another who replies, “at a community college.” So what they are saying is that he is not qualified to stage a jail break from the outside? A bit condescending, wouldn’t you say? If he taught at Harvard would he be any more qualified to mount a last ditch effort to free his incarcerated wife? No respect, these pigs. Actually the question itself is a fair one allowing the implication of an ordinary citizen being able to outsmart the cops, FBI and Homeland Security. Paul Haggis attempts to find the appropriate answer in his first big-screen thriller, fraught with the usual questions about character and what drives a man to do the things he does. Unfortunately for every one he answers, he raises two more that are left hanging and while effective in spots, The Next Three Days eventually succumbs to silliness and not knowing its own plan all too well.Laura Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is having a bad day. At dinner she discusses a fight she had with her female boss - a chance for Haggis to reintroduce his themes of sexual politics in a man's world. She may have even killed her; a charge the cops are more than vigilant arresting her on the following morning in front of her husband, John (Russell Crowe) and their baby son. Three years pass and the appeals process has run out. The evidence suggests Laura bashed her boss' head with a fire extinguisher in the parking lot. Her prints are on the murder weapon and there is a witness to her leaving the scene. John will not believe it though and after a suicide attempt by his wife, he begins looking into the possibility of busting her out.
First contacting an ex-con (Liam Neeson in a great cameo) who has had enough experiencing with jailbreaks to write a book on the subject, John gets the rundown on what it might take. He needs to know the routes, how long the police will take to shut down the bridges, then the airports. Money is a necessity, fake IDs, a final destination. Most importantly though for an average bloke like John is to know in his heart he will be able to go all the way if he spots the heat around the corner. No swerving for animals or old ladies on this getaway. Plotting his path on his bedroom wall while leaving Laura in the dark, John begins visiting the darker corners of Pittsburgh and shady characters while still looking for the key that will allow him to begin this caper.
The Next Three Days begins just as the 2008 French original, Anything For Her, did with a bloodied John frantically driving with an screaming unknown dying in the backseat. It is a rather pointless flashforward setting us up for the lengths John is headed towards. This supposed arc of his character is a primary facet that Haggis keeps trying to convince us is the crux of the story when he has a perfectly straightforward and potentially enthralling thriller on his hands. To Crowe's credit, he does his best to never seem like an action hero all on his own but Haggis' adaptation keeps putting him in situations that unreasonably scream look how far this guy has sunk. The scene where he plots an impromptu robbery (in what turns out to be the most stable meth lab ever devised) that catches up to that opener seems woefully inserted from another movie, complete with typecasting Kevin Corrigan as the guest drug dealer.
So John has made the leap from Quixote teacher to Quixotic killer. Metaphor much, Haggis? Has John's inaccessible objective though achieved a level of nobility worth such a classification though? The evidence against Laura is pretty overwhelming, though there is the addition of a stranger running out of the parking lot in her story. We are kept in the dark about whether Laura even deserves an idealistic pardon, but not nearly to the extent of not feeling the necessary bond between this couple. Very little time is spent establishing their relationship before she is carted off to prison. Sure they are capable of making love even when she is in a bad mood - an accomplishment for any marriage - but we are asked to make quite a leap of faith that this ordinary guy is ready to throw everything away for the sake of a woman who may have already made that choice the moment she grabbed that fire extinguisher.
For The Next Three Days to work, the last three years need to work as much of a love story as an escape procedural. Not once does John define his love for Laura to his parents (Helen Carey & Brian Dennehy), his brother (Michael Buie) or his shellshocked son (Ty Simpkins). Not a wistful story about how they met nor an anecdote, however small, about how she never gave up on him. At face value we are just to accept John as a devoted husband who will not believe his wife is guilty even after she confesses as much. He will not even give a second look to the breathtaking single mom (played by the breathtaking Olivia Wilde) inching her way into his life. He does willfully blurt out that his wife's in jail, but that she's innocent to her though, a plot point that will either come back to haunt John or just make Wilde's character even more infatuated with him.By the time we get to the title's timeframe over the last half-hour of the film, we are more curious than anticipatory for John's ultimate plan. What looks like pure impulsiveness turns soon enough into connecting the dots from earlier and some of it is exciting just from an ingrained part of our wanting for people (good or bad) to get away with it. Again though when Haggis slows his chase down and gives us time to contemplate or puts us in the crosshairs of Lennie James severely overplaying the police lieutenant who seems to think he is foiling the crime of the century, we begin thinking if it was worth all the trouble. Even after the Brennans story has been told, Haggis insists on answering (far too late) the question of Laura's innocence as Jason Beghe's detective, the guy who busted in with an army of cops to arrest her and anyone that got in his way, decides to finally reinvestigate the crime scene for a key piece of evidence. It is like watching Haggis reconsider choices made along the way and absolving himself for not knowing when a thriller just needs to be a thriller and the metaphors can be left to the real teachers.
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