Taking a break from his usual fare of addressing political and social issues (á la “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah”), director Paul Haggis tackles prison escape in his latest film “The Next Three Days.”
A remake of the 2007 French film “Pour Elle (Anything for Her),” the film certainly sounds like a promising change for Haggis, but ultimately fails to reach its potential.
John (Russell Crowe) and Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) share a happy and quiet middle-class life with their son Luke (Ty Simpkins), until one day Lara is accused of and arrested for murder. Three years pass, and her appeal is not going well. Frustrated, John decides to break his wife out of prison.
Over the course of three months, he (without Lara’s consent or knowledge) slowly engineers an escape plan and acquires the necessary materials. However, he is forced to execute the jailbreak much earlier than expected upon discovering that he has three days before Lara is transferred to another prison.
One particularly enjoyable aspect of the film’s concept is that the escape is planned and carried out not by the prisoner (as Lara doesn’t even expect to break free) but rather the person who is on the outside. Since most prison escape films concentrate on the inmate(s) committing these acts from inside the prison, this is definitely a welcome surprise because of its originality.
In spite of this auspicious element of surprise, “The Next Three Days” is unable to unravel itself from a multitude of flaws.
In the first act, the film transitions from scene to scene so awkwardly that you soon realize that the plot is noticeably disjointed. While the film eventually recovers (for a certain amount of time, that is), the lukewarm feeling from the beginning never really disappears.
To make matters worse, the film’s ending is dragged out much more than it needs to be. In fact, when watching the last 15 minutes or so, you feel that the film could have ended at three or four different points. Considering that the film’s running length is just over two hours (which is already too long), sitting through the ending is a restless experience.
Though Haggis does a great job of showing John’s intensive planning and just how each step of his escape can go wrong (which subsequently creates some well-needed tension), the viewer cannot take the film seriously because of its implausibility.
It’s not the escape plan itself that’s unconvincing, but rather John’s transformation from a calm English professor to a badass. As a result, whenever he does something that isn’t the norm for an everyday professor, you can’t help but think, ‘bullshit.’
Consider this: at one point, John buys a gun and asks the seller where the bullets go. By the time you see him actually using it, he’s able to shoot like a pro. Dare I mention that we never see him practice at a shooting range, much less even aim at someone with it?
Implausibility also applies to the film’s depiction of the authorities. There are moments where the police reach a certain conclusion, but the film never adequately explains how they got there in the first place.
Despite the shortcomings in the film’s story, Haggis manages to draw some good performances from some of the cast members. The rest, on the other hand, don’t contribute much to the film at all.
Crowe doesn’t do anything original as the film’s protagonist. If anything, he’s only fulfilling the bare necessities. From his apparent lack of passion (he actually seems bored), it’s difficult to understand why he even decided to star in the film.
If there is anyone who specifically stands out in the film, it has to be Banks. She effectively communicates the despair her character endures in prison and commands attention whenever she is onscreen. One should note how the color change of her hair (blonde to dirty brunette) mirrors that of her situation in the film.
Simpkins is impressive as the couple’s innocent son. He persuasively expresses his character’s discomfort around his mother as well as the undying faith in his father.
Lionsgate, the film’s distributor, made a wrong move by featuring Liam Neeson heavily in the previews. Playing a former prison escapee from whom John seeks advice, he’s in the film for no more than five minutes, and all he does is deliver his lines in a gruff voice — a lack of effort indicating that he only agreed to be in the film for the paycheck. If his cameo was kept a secret, it would have been much more pleasant.
The film’s technical achievements aren’t anything noticeable either. Aside from a few great lighting choices, the camera work, editing, production design and sound are only meeting the standards.
Ultimately, while “The Next Three Days” boasts an original concept for the prison escape genre it belongs to, the story’s unbalanced pace and implausibility belittle the film to nothing more than plain disappointment.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5