The Next Three Days, 2010.
Directed by Paul Haggis.
Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Nesson, Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, Lennie James, Aisha Hinds, Daniel Stern, RZA and Jason Beghe.
After his wife Lara is arrested for a murder she claims she didn't commit, John Brennan (Russell Crowe) sets about trying to prove her innocence. Three years on, with their final appeal rejected, John realises his only option is to break her out of prison.
After only a few minutes of character introductions at a dinner function that turns sour, the film kicks off with police suddenly bursting into John Brennan's house and arresting his wife almost without explanation. This scene occurs so rapidly that we're left as bewildered as John himself, with director Paul Haggis swiftly cutting to a title card reading 'The Next Three Years', suggesting that after this speedy introduction, we're about to be treated to a smart, patient slow-burn thriller. Which is essentially what we get.
The first half, consisting of John slowly realising that, appeal after appeal, his wife is not getting out of prison, takes its time in an attempt to build up an emotional connection between us and Crowe's tortured character. An encounter with an ex-escapee spurs John to take matters into his own hands, as he blunders into the criminal underground in a bid to acquire fake passports so he may free Lara. The main problem here though, is that the first and second acts of the film take so long setting up everything that I found myself losing interest. By the time the third act rolls around with the action kicking in, any excitement was tainted by the feeling that already, the film was overstaying it's welcome.
A gleefully ludicrous third-act set-piece when Lara tries to throw herself from a speeding car on a busy motorway is a welcome exception though. The scene's anarchic spirit as John loses control of the car and it spins into the path of an oncoming lorry, barely missing Lara's head, is so unapologetically silly that you find yourself forgiving some of the numbing build-up for a few moments.
Actingwise, all actors turn in capable turns, especially Crowe, with the film essentially being a 'one-man-Crowe-show'. He plays the increasingly desperate Brennan with his standard 'decent man in a tough situation' act that we've come to expect, but towards the end some convincingly manic twitches begin to take shape in his performance.
Some awkward moments of humour punctuate the serious air of the film, such as an hilarious exchange between John and a single mother at the playground where he takes his son. She believes him to be a single father, but he corrects her by explaining that his wife is in fact incarcerated, prompting him to blurt out “She's innocent, she didn't murder that woman”. However another moment where we're essentially encouraged to laugh at a deaf person's voice tonally felt very foreign in a film trying to take itself so seriously.
It's a standard thriller structure, with an exciting third act as John stages the jailbreak, but as I mentioned, a dragging first and second act find the viewer frustrated. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with The Next Three Days, but nothing really stands out as particularly original or fascinating. If you like your thrillers patient and involving, then by all means go see it. But I fear that anyone else will find the film too slow-paced for it's own good.
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