Paul Haggis has the impressive distinction of being the only screenwriter in history to pen two Best Picture Academy Award-winning scripts in succession: Million Dollar Baby followed by Crash. The Next Three Days is his first film as writer-director since 2007′s In the Valley of Elah and stars Russell Crowe as man whose wife is convicted of and imprisoned for murder.
This leaves John Brennan (Crowe) alone at home with his son. They pay regular visits to Lara (Elizabeth Banks) but her relationships with them – particularly with her son – are beginning to fragment. When it seems that all hope is gone, Lara turns suicidal, prompting her beleaguered husband to initiate his own amateur prison-break.
That summary of the film reeks of implausibility, admittedly, but Haggis’ film plays it cool, painting a (mostly) believable picture of a man whose determination to rescue his wife from her (in his mind, false) imprisonment takes him to places most husbands would never go. Most of the film’s realism comes courtesy of Crowe, who gives a good, grounded performance here, and ensures the picture never jumps the shark or flounders morally, as it might easily have done.
The Next Three Days is a remake of the 2007 French film Pour Elle (Anything for Her – a much better title) which I have not seen. That is probably a good thing, as reportedly this film is very close to the original, and the repetition may have dampened opinion. The original, it is worthy to note, is over half an hour shorter than Haggis’ effort, and it does feel that The Next Three Days could have done with a bit of a trim in the editing room. That isn’t to say it feels too long as such, but it does stretch its natural runtime somewhat. The film’s pacing doesn’t feel laborious, however, and Haggis manages to conjure up some decent tension out of his set pieces. The final third, in particular, ramps up the excitement for a drawn out finale that is genuinely tense and involving.
John’s transformation into a prison-break architect is handled generally quite well, although one scene – in which Liam Neeson cameos as an ex-con – feels a little forced. It serves the plot, and gives John his crucial check-list of prison-break essentials (which, to the film’s credit, are never forgotten) but does feel a little at odds with the rest of the film. His journey from average man to embittered renegade is tempered by Crowe’s performance, and we are not left with the sense that his character ‘gets away with’ anything from a moral perspective.
Danny Elfman’s score, which gently plays the mood, is effective, descending into a well-used electronic track when things start to speed up towards the end. There are even a couple of good laughs to enjoy in here, a couple of which come at moments of high drama, but which don’t dilute the atmosphere. The restaurant-set introduct ion is a little clunky, and it may be a little overlong (with too many supporting characters), but overall Haggis’ film is a competent thriller, subtly directed and well acted.