Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, Jason Beghe, Olivia Wilde
Paul Haggis (Screenplay), based upon Guillaume Lemans, Fred Cavaye (Screenplay, "Pour Elle")
Making The Next Three Days; The Men of The Next Three Days; True Escapes for Love; Cast Moments;Deleted Scenes
; Extended Scenes;; Full-Length Bump Key Video
Is anyone else starting to wonder if, perhaps, leaving Scientology was bad for Paul Haggis's career?
It seems just a tad bizarre that the writer of Million Dollar Baby and the director of Crash has himself crashed since his well publicized break-up with the Church of Scientology and, after said break-up, has served up the box-office bomb In the Valley of Elah and now the disturbingly average thriller The Next Three Days. It's not that I'm a fan of Scientology, mind you, but it's hard not to wonder if all that psychic agitation hasn't clouded Haggis's brain and rendered him incapable of manifesting another intellectually satisfying and emotionally involving film.
The Next Three Days has potential. The film stars Russell Crowe as John Brennan, a Pittsburgh junior college English teacher with a wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and a young son. The happy family's entire world collapses after Lara is arrested and finds herself facing murder charges that are compelling at the least. Lara's convicted and John does the best he can to hold the family together while going through the appeal process. Finally, the appeal process is exhausted and Lara is due to be transferred to the state penitentiary in three days.
With justice having failed, at least in John's eyes, he sees no other choice but to break Lara out of the jail where she is housed and enlists the help of an experienced escapee (Liam Neeson) and goes from a mild-mannered English teacher to action here in a matter of moments.
Okay, actually, since this is a Haggis film we know that it drags out a bit and "a matter of moments" actually involves quite a few moments.
Based upon a 2008 French film called Pour Elle, it's difficult to understand exactly what drew Haggis to feel that this film needed an English version and, as well, it's difficult to really understand what drew such credible performers as Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson and Elizabeth Banks to the film. While the film certainly isn't awful, it is an awful waste of a talented cast that has virtually no chance at elevating this material much past your typical "drama of the week" type material.
Haggis doesn't seem to trust his material here, weighing down the film with unnecessary cinematic philosophy and purposeless questions that add nothing to the film other than a good 30-45 minutes of unnecessary material. One gets the sense that The Next Three Days could have been a darn fine action thriller, but Haggis seems torn between straightforward action and returning to his usual self-important ways that made even Crash feel far more important than it actually was as a film or a statement.
It doesn't really help that Hilary Swank's recent Conviction, while far less action oriented, mined similar material not so long ago and did so much more successfully.
An action thriller certainly need not be a believable adventure in order to work cinematically, however, the way Haggis frames The Next Three Days the complete lack of believability throughout much of the film is a bit jarring. Had Haggis allowed this film to simply be a straightforward action thriller, it's easy to believe that this entire film would have felt immensely more satisfying. As it is, Haggis spends the first half of the film building us up to the grand escape and the snowballing action that follows. While even the escape scenes aren't particularly fresh, they are compellingly paced and Crowe has proven more than once that he's able to sell himself as an emotionally complex action hero.
Crowe fans, perhaps more than anyone, are the most likely to be satisfied here as Crowe does stretch himself and his transition from reserved college teacher to seeker of justice to action star is an appealing and involving transition. Crowe elevates the film considerably in its latter half, making us care about John no matter how silly the story is as it unfolds.
Elizabeth Banks, on the other hand, appears lost in the material and her performance is about as disheveled as is her hair after a few years in jail. As their son, Ty Simpkins gives a solid performance. Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy are fine enough in what amount to glorified cameos.
Is Lara guilty? Haggis doesn't really want you to know until the story is about to end, but by then you'll know for sure that Haggis himself is guilty of creating yet another self-conscious, faux moralizing flick that is mostly a missed opportunity given the abundant talent present in his cast.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic