A meticulous reworking of the 2008 French film Pour elle, Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days scores no points for originality (it’s almost a scene-for-scene redux of the earlier film, which held few surprises itself) but it is a taut, reasonably compelling and adult thriller – a combination that’s become increasingly rare at today’s multiplexes.
Russell Crowe plays community college professor John Brennan, whose wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) has been convicted for the murder of her boss. Years later, running out of appeals, his lawyer (Daniel Stern) asks him to look at the facts: Lara’s fingerprints are on the murder weapon, her boss’s blood is on her jacket, and an eyewitness sees her leaving the crime scene. She might be guilty.
But John is convinced of her innocence, though he may never know for sure (and, for the majority of the running time, neither do we; a great film might have left that question unanswered.) He vows to get Lara out of prison and reunite her with their young son (Ty Simpkins); with the legal system failing them, he turns to other options.
The buildup is slow and careful, as we follow John each and every step of the way (including watching YouTube videos on making a bump key and unlocking a car door with a tennis ball), but it pays off by the end; a complex, lengthy climatic breakout is truly exciting and plays out like a well-planned heist sequence, with the audience in on the plan.
It works despite some contrived one-step-ahead moments, which are unnecessary anyway; the situation itself is tense enough.
An excellent supporting cast features Liam Neeson as the ex-con and 7-time escapee who John turns to for advice; RZA, Kevin Corrigan, and Tyrone Giordano are some of the criminals who provide ‘assistance’; Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds, and Lennie James are some of the cops on his trail.
Unlike most thrillers, which might want to keep a smaller cast in the loop for the duration of the film, the characters here tend to show up, lend their services to the plot, and disappear; this adds a level of realism to the proceedings. Also noteworthy: Brian Dennehy and Helen Carey as John’s parents, and Olivia Wilde as a sympathetic single mother.
The Next Three Days has drawn some heavy criticism for credibility issues, but I found the first half of the film refreshingly realistic. Perhaps too realistic; the later thriller elements do tend to feel out of place by comparison.
John’s motivations – when even his wife has resigned herself to spending the next twenty years in prison – are hard to really get a grasp on (why risk it all and further endanger your son’s future?) Crowe also feels miscast – I’d have preferred to see someone like Neeson in this role.
Haggis displays as strong a directorial touch here as in his acclaimed previous films (Crash, In the Valley of Elah), but his influence as a writer is almost nonexistent; viewers of the original film, only 2 years old, will find little new here. These remakes only showcase a lack of creativity in Hollywood; an original work with the same talent behind it would have a much better chance of success (see also: Let Me In, an excellent remake of the Swedish film Let the Right One In; it, too, failed to catch on with US audiences.)