A blog about movies and filmmaking.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS

In action, drama on November 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I’m going to admit it, I’m a little biased toward Paul Haggis’ new movie THE NEXT THREE DAYS. Not only because it features my hometown, of Pittsburgh, PA so prominently (it’s essentially the key obstacle to our main character in the same way Boston is in THE TOWN; Las Vegas in OCEANS ELEVEN; and Chicago for THE FUGITIVE.); but also because my actual house – that I lived in – is featured on-screen for a couple minutes in a key scene. So, yeah, you might as well have Russell Crowe write this review. Not that it would matter because The Next Three Days is a spectacular “on the run” movie, and stands just about even with all the movies I just listed.

The story follows married couple John and Lara Brennan (played by Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, respectively), who after a night out with John’s brother come home; go to bed; wake up the next morning and have the police invade their house. They arrest Lara, for the murder of her boss. Jump three years forward, and John has spent the majority of their savings on appeals and lawyers, all with no positive outcome. Then when the decision comes down that his wife will be moved from the county jail, to a state penitentiary, comes John’s crazy idea…He has to break his wife out of prison.

The movie starts on a slow-burn. There’s the few minutes of getting to know the family – along with their son, Luke; and John’s parents (played by Brian Dennehy and Helen Carey). Then the intervening time where John’s trying to get his wife released – along with their attorney, played by Daniel Stern, and finally his decision to move into planning the escape. We meet Liam Neeson’s escaped ex-con, who wrote a book about how to escape any prison. He gives John the clues and timelines on what he’s got to do. Then we move into the shadier sides of town as he attempts to acquire new identities for his wife, son and himself. And finally, John’s work in planning his escape routes, setting up the circumstances that will give him an advantage, and all before he finally makes his last move.

The movie works because of the tension inherent in this type of story. A man who is out of his depth, attempting to essentially outwit an entire city’s law enforcement. The only drawback to a character like John Brennan, being played by a man like Russell Crowe, is that we’re pretty sure that he’s going to be able to pull it off. It’s the action-hero stigma. Though, much like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive; from the on-set we’re shown that obstacles aren’t going to just part for him and give way to what he wants. There are a number of set-backs, close calls, and tough decisions that leave us guessing how the movie will work out. And a number of moments that we’re sure will lead to a not very happy ending. (Not that I’m saying there is one…Maybe.)

There’s not a lot of showy character performances in the movie – which will mean not much Oscar buzz, but it won’t matter as it’s a solid thriller. Crowe, as always, is reliable to hold the movie together and make his character believable. He also takes his second – to my knowledge – role as someone related to Pittsburgh (STATE OF PLAY being the other) and Crowe has shown that it’s these kinds of movie that he’s really good at pulling off. Much like State of Play, this movie shows that Crowe doesn’t have to be the “bruiser”, to pull off these heroic roles. It’s interesting to watch him think, and plan. His no-longer, exactly, action-hero build and shuffle here, also works into believing him to be an everyman.

Banks, in a role that’s much more serious than we’re used to seeing her in, is also pretty good. With a number of emotional moments, she shows that she can be more than just the ditzy blonde; but, she’s fairly passive as a character here, and goes from sitting in a jail cell, to running behind Crowe. The major, I guess I’d call it a misstep is in Haggis’ casting of the secondary roles. When people like Daniel Stern and Brian Dennehy come on-screen, I can’t help but giggle. Not that there’s anything inherently funny about them (well, there is to Stern; he was the bungling burglar in the HOME ALONE movies for crying out loud), but they’re just not the people you expect to see in a movie like this. Or I’m sorry to say this, but in the case of Dennehy, at all. I don’t remember when the last time was I saw him on-screen. (Seemingly, it was in 2008’s RIGHTEOUS KILL, which I rightfully, forgot about.)

Also, Olivia Wilde is in the movie, and was being tossed around as a major role – when I’m pretty sure Dennehy has more screen-time than her. She’s fine for what she has to do and I can imagine there possibly being some “cutting room floor” stuff with her, but I guess she fits into the same category as Liam Neeson here. Bringing in a bigger name, for a small part. Maybe it helps to build-up expectation on where the movie will go and who will wind up being a major benefactor. There’s also one character who is deaf – which isn’t in itself funny – but how this character becomes involved seems a little silly, and draws unexpected giggles as well. Though THE NEXT THREE DAYS is a remake of a French movie (2008’s ANYTHING FOR HER), and there might have been  a similar character there. I don’t know.

Anyway, despite those issues. The movie builds up strongly, watching John stake out the city; make moves that don’t work out, and finally set the mission into gear. And once the action begins, there’s no letting up. As mentioned the plot and choices John makes, and not knowing how much of what he’s doing is planned, keep you guessing and is absolutely riveting. Especially because the police just happen to latch on to John for another crime-scene, so they turn out to be only one step-behind (literally in some aspects). And there’s one moment in particular that is more thrilling than the train and waterfall sequences from THE FUGITIVE, together; and will absolutely amaze in both the excitement and execution of it.

Overall, I think it’s a great exercise in a thriller, pulled off nearly perfectly. Casting issues and just a couple of tidy coincidences, aside. The movie kept me guessing in a couple of moments. Mainly in how Crowe’s character sometimes just seems to be flying by the seat of his pants. But the cast all put in solid performances and the movie will definitely thrill and move you. Especially if you’re familiar with the locations.

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  1. I was quite surprised by how much I liked this movie.
    A solid Thriller, with some great performances.
    Here’s my review
    http://wp.me/p19wJ2-8n

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