Don’t Just Think About Beating the System! Do it!

Movie Review: The Next Three Days (2010)
Spoilers: none

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Elizabeth Banks is Lara Brennan, a woman convicted of a murder she did not commit in The Next Three Days. Husband John, fitly played by Russell Crowe, is a college professor who has no idea he will find it in himself to attempt to break his wife out from one of the most well fortified prisons in America upon discovering she will be moved in 72 hours. But he’ll have to have help from former and famous escapee convict, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who steps in to provide the know-how.

In this crime/drama/thriller – with its mega-loads of suspense, clustered with avid star power – things come together for a long and frustrating journey of trying to pull off what seems to be the impossible when appeals and the legal system fail.

Lara’s trial is never shown and the details behind it are scattered around and throughout the film, but the audience is brought sufficiently up to speed on the basics by 15 minutes in as things go from bad to worse for Lara, as she faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

From the introduction of the predicament, viewers watch as Brennan is caught in a balancing act between self-destructing depression, as he tries to raise their son on his own, and meticulously planning a successful breakout, not knowing which will be his undoing.

Paul Haggis, director of 2004’s Crash and lead writer for Million Dollar Baby (2004) brings us this remake of a 2008 foreign film entitled, Anything for Her. Unfortunately, this one isn’t quite the mark-maker his earlier works were. But Crowe slides right into his role as a well-spoken teacher who steps way out of his league in taking on a hard life outside the law.

Hard-pressed plot logistics and the utilization of things like bump keys “that will open any lock” and other devices that test the limits of believability are difficult to look past in light of Brennan's lack of experience with them. But the knee-shaking level of excitement manages to hide most of that.

The Next Three Days happens to be one of those films where audiences and critics will disagree a little more than usual, but it is the scope of vision that proves a bit contrived for both sets of viewers; the cops and the system are narrowly portrayed as menacing and evil; the plot structure is built so that breaking free is what you are supposed to want, but the viewer’s viewing experience is made conflicted by the fact that you would rather have real justice instead. Events are set up precisely so that John must break Lara out. You are meant to embrace the conviction that escape via ingenuity is the only way. To some viewers, this will not be as easy a sell as predicted.

An always suspenseful and careful use of misdirection parallels great performances on the parts of Crowe, Banks, and Olivia Wild as Brennan's friend "Nicole," but we are still left with an ending that doesn't create the feelings of satisfaction we would hope to find in a movie that stakes its claim in championing the “lone good guy beats the system” theme.

(JH)

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Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: R (for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality, and thematic elements)
Director: Paul Haggis
Summary: A married couple's life is turned upside down when the wife is accused of a murder.
Starring: Russell Crowe "John Brennan," Elizabeth Banks "Lara Brennan," Michael Buie "Mick Brennan," Jason Beghe "Detective Quinn," Aisha Hinds "Detective Collero," Ty Simpkins "Luke," Olivia Wilde "Nicole," Brian Dennehy "George Brennan," Liam Neeson "Damon Pennington"
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller / Romance
Trailer

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