With Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Daniel Stern, Brian Dennehy. Directed by Paul Haggis. Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements. 122 minutes.
THE NEXT THREE DAYS has some interesting things going for it, but it’s too long and unfocused, eventually leaving you wondering what was the idea that attracted writer/director Paul Haggis to this story in the first place. A remake of the 2008 French film “Anything For Her,” it tells the story of a mild-mannered man whose wife is falsely convicted of murder and decided to bust her out of prison.
You might be willing to go with the contrivances of the story – how the circumstantial evidence looks bad for Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks), how the legal system offers no help – if there was some way to make her husband John’s (Russell Crowe) actions credible. Instead it’s simply taken for granted that when her lawyer (Daniel Stern in one of the film’s odd cameos) admits the case is hopeless that the only rational course of action is a prison break.
What makes this hard to swallow is that John is not an international spy or a hardened criminal, he is a school teacher. He meets with an ex-con famous for his prison breaks (Liam Neeson in another of the odd cameos) who advises him to do his research and plan everything carefully. The bulk of the film is made up of his false starts and preparations, including being beaten up by drug dealers when trying to find someone to forge documents, and nearly getting arrested himself when testing out a passkey during a prison visit. There are moments of suspense, to be sure, but it’s a hard sell.
The film tries to play cute by keeping us in the dark as to what really happened on the night of the murder. We know Lara has a temper and had a fight with her boss. When the boss turns up dead she’s suspect number one. The contrast with the recent “Conviction” is telling in that in the earlier film the campaign to reopen the case becomes a crusade for not only truth and justice, but family loyalty. John’s actions seem to be motivated more by how inconvenient it is having his wife in prison rather than at home.
Perhaps the most interesting and honest part of the film is John’s strained relationship with his father (Brian Dennehy) who barely speaks with him, yet figures out that the son is up to something. When they meet before John is ready to act, they say more in exchanged glances than in pages of dialogue. Finally we get to the breakout, and more suspense, including a sequence in which we’re led to believe one thing until we shown the situation is quite different, but while it’s diverting, it’s not engaging.
At the end we get what we’re led to believe is the truth about what happened, and the scene is as contrived as anything else we’ve seen in the film. A film that is about something can go on at some length, but if it’s just about thrills and chills – as with the recent “Unstoppable” – keeping it short and to the point is the better way to do it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.