If nothing else, The Next Three Days deserves credit for finding suspense in a story with no bad guys or antagonists for the audience to root against. It’s an uncommon feat in a Hollywood thriller, and along with last week’s Unstoppable may just be part of a mini revolution. Even better, for at least two-thirds of the running time the movie manages to be a tense, engaging, and unpredictable thriller. The strong build-up loses a bit of its edge though in the final third with the introduction of a brand new, out of the blue character who shall henceforth be known as Super Psychic Cop.
John and Lara Brennan (Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks) are a happily married couple with a young son named Luke. Their day begins like any normal family’s would until police arrive at the door to arrest Lara for murder. Murder! Coincidentally enough they find her in the bathroom attempting to rinse blood from her jacket before taking her away for trial, conviction, and incarceration. John stays by her side, his belief in her never faltering, and spends the next few years appealing her conviction again and again. Each time they lose an appeal her resolve in prison gets weaker and weaker until it becomes dramatically clear that she won’t last much longer. So John sets about planning her escape… but will he succeed? Will the whole family get away together? And why hasn’t he asked Lara whether or not she did it?
As mentioned above most of the film works as a solid dramatic thriller that will keep viewers interested and guessing as John’s desperation turns into planning for something totally foreign to him. He visits with an ex-convict (Liam Neeson, who’s onscreen for less than five minutes total), draws up an elaborate plan, and even finds himself in a violent encounter with some unrelated bad guys. And in case there was any doubt how much he loves his wife, John even works to resist the temptation of Olivia Wilde as a fellow single parent he meets at the playground. That’s dedication my friends.
Both Crowe and Banks give relatively strong performances here, with Banks being the real surprise. Her comedic skills are kept in check and she’s forced to act with restraint and awareness. It’s a different side of her, and as with every other side of her it’s one I hope we see again soon. Crowe shows a mostly convincing focus with his character, and overall he hits an acting mark somewhere between the sincerity of American Gangster and the “not fully there” feeling evident in his performance in Body Of Lies.
Writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash) does a commendable job squeezing just enough pathos out of the situation without tilting his film towards melodrama. John is visibly invested in his wife’s absence, and he mourns the loss in minor ways while devoting most of his energy towards getting her back. The film’s jump ahead of a few years means we don’t get to see total a breakdown by anyone involved, but that’s fitting as the film transitions into an action thriller two thirds of the way in and leaves reality behind.
John’s plan is rushed into execution by an upcoming transfer, hence the film’s title, and the clock starts ticking. Some of the scenes work very well including one where he loses a key within the confines of the jail and risks discovery. It’s suspenseful and stressful for both the audience and John, and it stands as one of the film’s best sequences. The set pieces get more involved and convoluted from there as the duo make a break for it… which is when Super Psychic Cop appears. This man is clearly the greatest detective in the world. His identification of a singular piece of plastic in a trash filled alleyway as being a key piece of evidence is astounding. And it signifies the decline of the film.
The absence of any real antagonist is a strength, but it also appears to be an eventual weakness as Super Psychic Cop is brought in purely to force our hero’s hands and ratchet up the pressure. He’s a terribly written character who belongs in a far worse film. That’s not enough to mark this as a bad film, just one that won’t be particularly memorable. The drama and suspense are enough to keep you interested for a while, but when the action starts the focus turns to a series of slightly ridiculous getaways and near misses that force you to stop caring and just enjoy the ride. It’s still entertaining, but The Next Three Days is coincidentally enough about how long the film will stick with you after seeing it.
The Upside: Strong acting from Banks, and acting from Crowe; two-thirds of a great thriller; impressively manages suspense and thrills without having a “bad guy” to root against
The Downside: Third act has major logic flaws in the form of a highly unrealistic super cop and a wobbly escape plan
On the Side: The Next Three Days is a remake of the French film, Pour elle (Anything For Her), and Luke Mullen says it’s fantastic
Related Topics: Elizabeth Banks