It seems unreasonable that some people still disregard Russell Crowe’s talents as an actor. Versatile in approach, he is able to morph into any character and handle them excellently. Despite a couple of missteps (Robin Hood was not a highlight), Crowe’s range of work has led to an impressive filmography. His latest film is Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days, an adaptation of the disappointing 2008 French movie Pour Elle / Anything For Her.
Three years ago, John Brennan’s (Russell Crowe) life was torn apart after his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) was arrested for murdering her boss. Despite John’s protestations to her innocence, the evidence against Lara was overwhelming and she was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Life has not been easy for John or his son since, yet it becomes too much when Lara attempts suicide whilst behind bars. Desperate to save her, John starts organising a plan to break her out and leave the country.
It is rare for me to say that I find a remake better than the original but it’s quite obvious here. Paul Haggis makes a smart decision to not hammer in the truth of the murder but instead leaving it ambiguous until the final moments. This means that the idea of breaking her out is no long as absurd, as searching for the real killer would be a wild-goose chase that John has probably attempted for three long years. Instead the film raises questions on the consequences of prison sentences on families and what people will do for their loved ones.
Yet the ambiguity does raise inevitable problems with the ending. John’s actions break a lot of criminal laws. Even if she isn’t guilty, John would have become more of a criminal than her by the end. If she is guilty, then he has released someone who should be serving time. This leads to a very unsatisfying ending where a mild-mannered “good” man has become more criminal than a viewer will be comfortable with. While not separate from the cyclical nature of the prison system, it is still concerning.
That’s not to say that the viewer is disconnected from the film’s characters. Indeed, Haggis has so easily made the characters sympathetic and built a world of people that don’t need much development to serve their purpose. Acting is of a very high standard and all parts are well-handled.
Crowe’s John is a complex figure considering how often we see this type of film. John isn’t the brave machine-like archetype but instead an intelligent, yet naive man. In one scene he almost gets caught and the shock leaves him physically ill. It is very satisfying to see these types of moments – where a thriller does not go down traditional avenues. His tenderness towards Lara and his son is subtle and realistic but it’s the interaction with his father which is the most impressive. Russell Crowe and Brian Dennehy portray a complex relationship where actions mean more than words. John’s relationships with his wife, father and son are all believable, particularly notable considering the small amount of screen time they have.
The film moves along at a reasonable pace but the 133 minute running time could have used some trimming. It never bothers but there are superfluous moments. There are also a number of instances that feel too neatly done – where the film slips slightly into conventional. There is also a question of Nicole’s (Olivia Wilde) and super Detective Quinn’s (Jason Beghe) motives. Most frustratingly is the pursuit of John and Lara by Lieutenant Nabulsi (Lenne James), who miraculously knows every move the couple will try and pull.
Despite these issues, The Next Three Days is an impressive film of this type. Asking what a man will do in a time of desperation and discussing the consequences of the prison system, The Next Three Days packs a powerful punch that was not expected. Well-acted and scripted, this is a successful remake of an average film.