DVD Review: High-tension suspense, emotional hang-wringing and heartache, plus Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks keep the “Bust My Wife Outta Jail” action-drama The Next Three Days pounding purposefully along. (Neatly rolling over a few plausibility issues in its home stretch.)
Paul Haggis, the writer-director of Crash and the scribe behind the Daniel Craig Bond reboot and Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films, has ambitiously set out to meld his two filmmaking styles. The Next Three Days, which Haggis wrote and directed based on the 2008 French film Anything for Her (Pour elle) is a wrenching drama of desperate love propelled forward by a daring prison break.
It helps that Russell Crowe is at his best when his characters swerve between a jovial enjoyment of life and a focused intensity. Here we get only a few early scenes of Happy Russell as John Brennan, a college lit professor blissfully married to Elizabeth Banks’ Lara and father to a plenty cute son (Ty Simpkins, on hand to later goose the emotional stakes).
When Lara is convicted of a murder John (but not the viewer) is sure she didn’t commit, Happy Russell goes away and out comes Crazy Russell. With appeals exhausted (along with the family funds) and Lara facing decades in prison, John does what any lit professor who teaches Don Quixote would do: He concocts a wild-eyed plan to bust her out. (Turns out all you really need to go from upstanding citizen to master criminal is some Googling and a few useful YouTube tutorials.)
John’s flip from rational to irrational might be a little pat, and because Lara is arrested in the film’s first 10 minutes, we don’t get a chance to know or care about the Amazing Marriage that’s fueling John’s fire. (On the other hand, Brian Dennehy brings tremendous low-key authenticity as John’s father—he and Crowe have a quiet scene that’s absolutely wrenching in what’s not said.)
But what we do learn is that if you’re going to be incarcerated for a crime you may or may not have committed, it’s best to have that Magnificent Bastard Russell Crowe, master and commander of the screen, madly in love with you. But Banks is also terrific as usual—the actress has a guarded, predatory look that leaves you on edge and questioning her veracity.
Warned by a master escaper (Liam Neeson in a brief cameo) that he may have to become a different, less “good” man to pull off his plan, John sets out on a dark journey into the seedy criminal underworld. (A bravura set-piece at a meth house is a symphony of fear and moral line-crossing. Even as we wonder where exactly the college professor found his inner Charles Bronson.) And eventually the jailbreak unfolds with crackerjack intensity.
(Sorry for the spoiler, but did you really think the film was going to be about John spending a year planning to bust his wife out and then at the last minute say, “Wow, this is really nuts—maybe I’ll just go get remarried”?)
Thanks to Haggis, Crowe, and Banks, The Next Three Days charges ahead while keeping viewers off balance–you often feel as if anything could happen, not to mention unsure if John is really sane or Lara is really innocent. Haggis gets a little lost in his third act—he can only string out the tension so far before it starts to strain credibility and the viewer’s patience. But as much as the movie plays by Movieland Rules, it wrings plenty of solid thrills out of them.
More from the cast and creator of The Next Three Days at redbox:
- Russell Crowe in Robin Hood on DVD and Blu-ray, State of Play
- Elizabeth Banks in The Uninvited
- Liam Neeson in Chloe, The A-Team on DVD and Blu-ray, Taken
- Quantum of Solace, written by Paul Haggis