Saturday, 5 February 2011

Film Review: The Next Three Days (2010)

Russell Crowe and director Paul Haggis team up for this tense thriller, based on the french film "Pour Elle" (aka Anything for Her) by Fred CavayƩ. Absorbing from the start, the premise is simple; after a happily married man and wife have their worlds torn apart when she is convicted of murder, the husband starts to plan how to break her out of prison. The issue of her guilt or innocence is largely left out, until the very end, as that isn't the point. This is an exploration of what one ordinary man will do and the lengths he will go to in order to unite his family.

The film opens with the kind of family dinners we all dread - two brothers, John and Mick Brennan, are out with their wives, who just happen to despise each other. After one too many drinks the heated words turn volcanic and both parties go their separate ways. The next morning John (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) are discussing the night before, bantering with each other and their young son when suddenly the doorbell rings and police storm into the house. They arrest Lara, accusing her of murdering her boss the day before, after she left work
but before the dinner. Cut to three years later and we see John bringing his son Luke to the prison to visit Lara. Still convinced of her innocence he has spent almost all their money on appeals but when the most recent one fails they realise she isn't going to get out of prison. Unable to accept this John starts to research how to break her out and flee with her and Luke to a foreign country.

Russell Crowe in suitably tortured pose

The majority of the film is spent watching John making a plan of how to get his wife out, with only the last half an hour covering the actual attempt. What makes the film so compelling is that during this period we see John also trying to handle the whole single father thing and to give his son the best life he can. But this is a man who is fixated on his goal, to the point where he hasn't even asked if his wife committed the crime (there's a brilliant scene between Crowe and Banks when this comes up) even though everyone around him is saying he should just accept things as they are. His character is likable and through some brilliant dialogue gets the viewers to hope he succeeds, even as you wonder if this is the right thing to do. As an ex-con tells him (Liam Neeson, in a cameo role of "blink and you'll miss him") you have to know how far you're willing to go, and to succeed you have to be prepared to do anything.

You know a man must really love his wife when he can resist the charms of Olivia Wilde

The film isn't all tense thrill ride though. There are many moments of almost silence, as we simply watch what transpires. Some of these moments last a little too long and indeed the run time of this film could probably have been shortened. But then we would have missed some beautiful observational moments. One of these comes in the shape of John talking to another parent in the park. The conversation is pithy and astute and is an example of how a script can get it so right, especially when it's delivered as well as this. All of the acting in the film is excellent, with Crowe getting a chance to play an average Joe out of his depth and doing a damned good job at it. There are also a number of cameos in the film from well known actors, best of all being Brian Dennehy who manages to express more without words than anyone else. Elizabeth Banks is also surprisingly good, considering her resume, managing to convey a woman wanting to believe she'll get out, while trying to accept she won't.

Slow in places but overall very rewarding, "The Next Three Days" is a clever film - but one that anyone can enjoy. This reviewer was hoping for a slightly different outcome but it's satisfying nonetheless. If you like to see films with an excellent script, strong actors and some of the best views of Pittsburgh you'll ever see then you can't go wrong with this.

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