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Non-Review Review: The Next Three Days

The Next Three Days is actually, when it gets down to it, quite a clever and inventive little prison break movie, with a strong central performance from Russell Crowe, with a smart script and a great supporting cast. However, the problem is that, for a prison break movie, the actual prison break only takes up a relatively small amount of the film. While it’s clear a great deal of care and research went into the production, and it feels like Paul Haggis is really showing his work, it throws the pacing off a bit, and feels almost like we’re watching the episodic adventures of a guy planning to break his wife out of prison.

This couple really needs a break...

In a way, I can’t help but get the sense the movie might have worked better as a made-for-television miniseries. It would have afforded the opportunity for more exploration of the preparation involved in breaking your wife out of a prison. It also might have, in breaking the plot up into clear delineated units, have afforded a better sense of pace. Indeed, the movie consciously sells itself as a prison escape film, so it feels strange that the actual escape attempt is confined to the last third of the film. I know you really can’t control how your film is going to be sold, but it does feel a little disorienting to watch a movie that takes an hour-and-a-half to start doing what the DVD cover and trailers seem to promise from the outset.

It’s a little sad, too, that an outside factor like how the film is sold can have such an impact, because it’s actually very well made. While the movie does go into near-obsessive detail about Professor John Brennan’s plans to break his wife Lara out of prison (after she’s convicted of a crime she didn’t commit, of course). In a way, it feels far more honest than the hijinks that we’ve come to expect from such prison break movies – there are no high-speed collisions, a relatively low-key smash-and-grab, no real direct physical confrontations. Instead, the movie examines the how one might actually put together a real life prison break, rather than acting out some lame action movie fantasy and hoping for the best.

Has our lead gone Wilde?

So, with Liam Neeson providing some handy exposition, it becomes clear that stealing somebody out of federal custody involves a lot more hardwork than we’ve been raised to expect. It takes research, and planning, and timing. John stakes out his targets, gets to know their routine, and puts together a plan of attack built around cunning – with the bare minimum left to chance. He knows how much time he has to execute each step, and the movie goes into great detail about who he’s watching and why he’s watching them.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite enough. It’s an interesting premise, but the movie spends far too long on it. Far more interesting than the practical concerns are the ethical challenges the movie places in front of Brennan as he attempts to put his family back together. At one stage, the film wonders how far its lead will go in order to secure the funds he needs for his operation. Later on, it asks what he might be willing to accept as a necessary loss. These are powerful moments, and make great use of Russell Crowe. Crowe actually feels organic. He has a great way of playing these sorts of intellectual characters in such a way that his impressive physique never intrudes. As John faces these tough choices, you honestly feel for him.

Trying to Russell up an escape attempt?

It’s a shame that these moments are relatively few and far between, as we get lots of shots of John meticulously planning and watching and observing. In fairness to Haggis, these all pay off during the big finally, but they could have done with being truncated slightly. I know it’s a reality that one will spend more time planning a prison break than executing it, but the excitement lies more in the latter.  It seems like awkward pacing to spend so much time on set-up and relatively little on pay off. That doesn’t mean that the set-up isn’t interesting, as it poses some nice moral challenges for our hero, but just that watching a guy stakeout the guts of the prison system doesn’t really make for gripping viewing in large quantities.

In fairness to Haggis, he’s put together one hell of a cast for the movie, with Crowe ably supported by actors like Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy. None of them really have too much to do, but they are skilled enough to seem worth watching, even in minor roles. Crowe’s charm anchors the film, and helps it hold together consistently.

Has Crowe reached breaking point?

The movie feels a bit strangely paced, but there are worse problems. It’s a smart take on the old prison break story, and it’s nice to see a writer trying to approach the matter from a unique perspective, but there’s no denying that watching a carefully planned and orchestrated escape attempt being meticulously pieced together isn’t quite as exciting as watching it in action.

4 Responses

  1. I started watching this many a time but can’t get through the first scene. Should make myself watch it soon, because I do dig Crowe. A lot.

    He’s just not doing that great nowadays, is he?

    • I actully kinda liked it, but it’s not vintage Crowe by any means. Stronger than Robin Hood at any rate. And Body of freakin’ Lies. Yep, the man does need a comeback, although maybe playing Jor-El in Superman is his way of accepting he might be a little past his prime.

  2. If I recall correctly “The Next Three Days” is a remake after the French thriller “Pour Elle”. If you have enjoyed the american movie, you should also try the original version.

    And Diane Kruger is waaay better than Elizabeth Banks.

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