MOVIE REVIEW: The Next Three Days


It's amazing what men can do when they are not just pushed to their frustration point, but motivated at the same time.  That factor multiplies when that man is a husband and a father.  What would you do if your spouse was sent to life in prison for a crime they didn't commit?  What would you do if you've exhausted all legal means and court options to win your case?  Would you accept the long-term ramifications and changes, or would you do something about it?  These are the questions at the core of The Next Three Days from Academy Award winning writer-director Paul Haggis and starring two-time Academy Award winner Russell Crowe.

Crowe stars as humble Pittsburgh college professor John Brennan.  He is dealing with raising his son while his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), has been in prison for years for a murder she didn't commit.  He has run out of lawyers, money, and court appeals trying to clear her name.  Lara is running out of hope and will to handle prison which leads John to a drastic new plan: breaking her out of prison.

John does some initial research on prison escapes and arranges a meeting with a seven-time prison escapee Damon Pennington (the pitch-perfect Liam Neeson in his single scene of the movie), who has authored several books on the subject.  Initially thinking this was an author interview, Damon soon realizes John's true intention was to learn how to pull it off.  Damon cuts to the chase and spells out the many legal, financial, and life hurdles and consequences that it's going to take.  His ominous advice doesn't scare or deter John, it inspires and motivates him to do whatever it takes to free his wife and reunite his family.

We follow the months of John's meticulous planning and preparation from the library, to YouTube, and into the seedy streets of Pittsburgh.  We witness his successes, setbacks, and all.  His research continues and the lengths John goes to obtain what he needs slowly turn an honest man into a desperate man driven by a sliver of hope.  When push comes to shove, when the gun is on him, can that honest man do what it takes to ensure the plan's success, whatever the cost?  If it all works, can that honest man shed the obsession and resurface as who he used to be or is he forever turned?

The Next Three Days pushes the right buttons and poses the right questions of morality much better than most other heist films.  While every heist/escape film has its level of implausibility (this one is no different), what this movie has going for it is that very believable journey of an honest man out to do wrong.  To me, it's right there with this fall's The Town from Ben Affleck for morality and just as fascinating and exciting to watch.  Also, just as The Town was a love letter to the underbelly of Boston, so is the The Next Three Days for Pittsburgh.  This isn't the Rust Belt Pittsburgh circa-The Deer Hunter.  It's an evolved modern city that has its beauty and its pitfalls.

The slow burn of a brilliant Russell Crowe sells that journey in The Next Three Days.  It's incredible to watch him push a good man's limits, yet maintain believability.  John's meticulous obsession and focus never turn into rage or insanity like you might expect when dealing with the normally open-to-volatility Crowe.  At the same time, he never crosses to the other extreme and turns into the action star you'd expect either.  The unwavering determination of his character drives this movie and makes it incredibly watchable because Crowe never takes it over the top, like he could easily have done.

The smart restraint in telling this story without skewing to the action or rage extreme goes to writer-director Paul Haggis, the Academy Award winner for Crash, whose other writing credits include Million Dollar BabyLetters From Iwo JimaCasino RoyaleQuantum of Solace, and his own directing work in the very underrated In the Valley of Elah.  As you can tell from Crash and that resume, morality and the delicate balance between life and death are his specialties.  Both of those shine in The Next Three Days.

LESSON #1: SMART PEOPLE KNOW TO PLAN AND PREPARE FOR EVERYTHING-- From the woman and mom who keeps spare things of every sort in her purse to an escape artist aware of every contingency, nothing bad can be said about thorough planning and preparation for a task.  No one ever penalizes for over-planning.

LESSON #2: THE EXTREMES SPOUSES WILL GO FOR EACH OTHER-- Those classic wedding vows may talk about "for richer or poorer," "in sickness and in health," "for as long as we both shall live," and "till death do us part," but those don't scratch the surface of what truly dedicated married people will do for each other. 

LESSON #3: THE EMPOWERMENT OF MEANS AND MOTIVATION-- Hopeful people wish, pray, and plan.  Desperate people bite, scratch, claw, and steal.  Both have determination.  Give a hopeful or desperate person means and motivation to go with that determination and you cannot talk them out of anything.  They are going all the way and not turning back in whatever they are pursuing.