By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Is The Next Three Days a worthwhile investment of your next two hours? Only if you wear your gullibility cloak.
A devoted husband, believing that his incarcerated wife, who has been tried and convicted of homicide, to be innocent of the gruesome murder she was accused of committing, tries desperately to free her from prison in The Next Three Days, a remake of the 2008 French thriller Pour Elle (Anything for Her).
Russell Crowe stars as John Brennan, a suburban Pittsburgh community college professor with a six-year-old son, Luke (Ty Simpkins), who barely knows and won’t acknowledge or respond to his mother, now that she’s been in prison for half his life.
John’s outspoken wife Lara, played by Elizabeth Banks, has received a life sentence for the alleged murder of her female boss, whom she had been heard arguing with in public. And not only was the victim’s body found in a parking lot where Lara had been seen, but Lara’s coat was stained with what was determined to be the dead woman’s blood.
Circumstantial evidence, to be sure. So her distraught husband, raising his son on his own, appeals and attempts to overturn her conviction through standard legal channels.
But when his final appeal is rejected by a criminal justice system that is failing him, and after Lara attempts suicide, he realizes that the only solution to their problem is for him to mastermind her escape and break her out of prison.
He then devises an elaborate scheme that involves somehow getting her out in the time frame stipulated by the title, and at which time Lara is scheduled to be transferred from the county jail to a maximum-security state facility.
So the mild-mannered prof (inspired by the title character in the novel that he’s currently teaching, Don Quixote ) throws rationality to the wind and embarks on an impossible waking dream.
He takes to the library and the Internet to learn as much as he can about any other options and avenues that might exist for him. And with that he morphs into a man of infinite resourcefulness and improbable action.
Crowe’s Oscar win and three Oscar nominations notwithstanding, y’know what? It’s all too easy. We just don’t buy it at all.
Oh, we know that screen star Russell Crowe can do that stuff. But the antiheroic everyman character he’s playing? Not a chance.
Nor does the jailed wife, at least as played by Banks, sound a persuasive chord. Because we’re shown partial flashbacks of the crime, we’re nowhere near as sure of her innocence as is her loving (or is it deluded?) husband — and that’s fine — but we don’t buy her stoic stance or passive behavior once she’s imprisoned.
Writer-director Paul Haggis (Crash, the screenplay for Million Dollar Baby, In the Valley of Elah) adapted the strained script from the original. But he miscalculates in several ways, including changing the tone a few too many times. He labels the segments “The Last Three Years,” “The Last Three Months,” and “The Last Three Days,” but the suspense doesn’t get ratcheted up in the way intended as the husband’s desperation expands exponentially.
We never feel what should be a tightening noose.
True, the film is both compelling and poignant through the setup, and there’s a little excitement and a dash of suspense in the early reels. But there’s a lot more arbitrariness and implausibility.
And once the premise is completely unfurled, The Next Three Days turns into a chase flick, one that would have to be much more persuasive than it is to keep us involved despite a lack of legitimate rooting interest.
The recently released and similarly plotted Conviction did a better job of gripping us cerebrally if not emotionally. And with the involvement of cameoing Liam Neeson, who plays an ex-con and well-known prison escape artist who has written a best-seller about his exploits and offers advice to Brennan, the film momentarily reminds us of another film, Taken (starring Neeson), that was far more visceral.
So we’ll spring 2 stars out of 4 for the farfetched and nearsighted prison-escape thriller, The Next Three Days. In a phrase: Nothing to Crowe about.