‘The Next Three Days’ – What Did You Think?

Paul Haggis has directed two theatrical features since 2004: the divisive, Oscar-winning Crash, and the far less-seen In the Valley of Elah. This weekend he returns with The Next Three Days, which stars Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks in a remake of the French thriller Pour elle, aka Anything For Her.

When Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks), the wife of family man professor John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is arrested for murder, the family is shocked. Evidence damns Lara to a conviction, and as John struggles to raise the couple’s son (Ty Simpkins), he comes to a decision: he’ll break his wife out of prison. So, what are your thoughts on The Next Three Days? Is it an effective thriller, or a soggy, too-lengthy play on emotion? As usual with these posts, spoilers follow after the break.

As far as I’m concerned, for two effective acts Russell Crowe and Paul Haggis subvert the image of the movie star who can instantly concoct and execute a complex plan that will thwart authority and reunite the family. In other words: John Brennan discovers that breaking someone out of prison is really, really difficult, and Russell Crowe turns in a very good performance as a guy who might not be up to the task he’s set for himself.

Paul Haggis gets some great detail on screen. He uses Liam Neeson in one scene (just one!) to explain exactly how difficult the prison break would be, and just how much it would cost. (A detail that a lot of similar films just gloss over.) There are other great character actor appearances, too, like the RZA, Kevin Corrigan and Daniel Stern, and for me they kept the film moving and interesting. I was quite caught up in the film’s portrait of the changing priorities of John Brennan, and the way it showed how he was desperate to be reunited with his wife.

But eventually the prison break has to go into action, and there’s a point where, to me, the film becomes too much of a circumstantial action film — the action feels as ill-motivated as the conviction of Lara Brennan — and the tension drained away. Brennan never becomes an all-out action hero, but suddenly the cops on his tail are either preternaturally smart or not thinking at all, and much of the third act feels like it belongs in a slightly different film.

Plus, there’s a sort of coda that reveals the real details of the crime for which Lara is convicted that bugged me like crazy. It’s not there for the characters; it exists only for the audience, just to make us feel good about how the film ends. Schmaltz, pure and simple.

So what did you think about The Next Three Days? Does the film work as a thriller, and/or as a character piece? Were you just happy to see Olivia Wilde as the hot mom that a weaker man would have paid more attention to? Sound off in the comments, and spoil away.

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