When you first look at the trailer for “The Next Three Days,” you see Russell Crowe … so it must be an action suspense thriller. But you need to forget all about his characters in movies such as “Gladiator” and “Robin Hood,” because this is a very different kind of movie and Russell Crowe plays a very different role than he has before. Just to give you an idea of the type of movie it is, writer-director Paul Haggis is responsible for films such as “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby,”“In the Valley of Elah” and “Casino Royale” — are you starting to see how he writes and how he works? Good. So take away the expectations of full-out action in this adaptation of the 2008 French Thriller “Pour Elle” and you can truly enjoy this dramatic suspenseful chase thriller.
Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) works in an office and we first see her doing the normal breakfast for the family routine. She’s cooking for her husband, John Brennan (Russell Crowe), a local teacher, and their son, Luke (Ty Simpkins). She’s shown as loving and wants to take a cheesy family photo every morning at breakfast just to capture every moment. Things couldn’t seem more normal, then there’s a knock at the door, police rush in and announce that Lara is under arrest for the murder of her boss. In a state of shock, John refuses to believe it and vows to prove her innocence however he can.
Three years later, we see an older Luke and John going to visit Lara in the county jail. Luke is distant and doesn’t even respond to her questions and that upsets Lara. John goes to visit their lawyer and learns that an appeal has been denied. Lara now doesn’t want to live anymore and John knows if he can’t get her out soon that she won’t survive her life sentence in jail. So he has one choice — to try and research ways to get her out. He scours the internet until he comes across an author named Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who wrote a book about the seven times he escaped from prison. He meets with Pennington and gathers all of the necessary information that one needs to plan an escape.
Once he has a plan in place, he has the moral dilemma of whether he has what it takes to do anything to free her, and if he does will she still love the man he has become?
One thing you have to do to enjoy this movie is suspend practical logic and just enjoy the film. There are some questions that could become distracting from the main story, because as an audience we root for the main characters in a way that isn’t really realistic. We want them to be vindicated and get away with it all — no matter how impractical it all is. The performances from Crowe and Banks beg us to believe in them and we do. Crowe sheds his mantle of past manliness for a more meek and mild-mannered character, which makes you believe how hard it is for him to gather the information and implement his plans to break his wife out of jail. Banks, who is mostly known for her comedic chops, is seen as miscast until you realize that she had a classical training in theater and when you see her performance as this desperate and broken mother and wife, you believe it.
There are a lot of supporting characters who come into play as well, at the beginning of the movie we see John and Lara out to dinner with his brother Mick (Michael Buie) and his wife Erit (Moran Atias) and an argument breaks out between Lara and Erit when she hits on John. Besides this public outburst, we are never given any other reason to believe that Lara is capable of such a brutal crime aside from the evidence that the police found to prove otherwise. John’s parents, George (Brian Dennehy) and Grace (Helen Carey), are shown to be distant and in one scene they give the impression that they might not believe in Lara’s absolute innocence after all. Then we have the whole detective aspect with many police officers and investigators all with their own agendas and beliefs on the case getting involved. Some of those talented actors are Allan Steele, Aisha Hinds, Jason Beghe and Lennie James, all of whom show different personality types and reasons for looking into the case further.
Haggis has proven himself to be a director who can handle drama and he does a great job yet again with “The Next Three Days.” We’ve seen that he likes to deal with unknowns and topics that aren’t associated with everyday life for the typical person. He has an eye that can reach into the darker part of ourselves that we didn’t even know existed and bring all of it to the surface. Any logical person would never go to the extreme lengths that John does to free his wife, but then again, he isn’t thinking logically. The mystery and intrigue of the story woven in front of us is enough to keep us guessing what will happen next.
Suspense, star-power, great acting, gripping action and many plot twists make this dramatic thriller an emotional roller coaster ride to be seen. Yes, the plot takes some suspension of disbelief, but the incredible acting and storytelling help the audience to go along with it. If you’re a fan of Crowe or Banks, you are sure to enjoy watching the movie unfold before your eyes.
“The Next Three Days” opens in theaters Nov. 19 and is rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements.
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