The Next Three Days. Starring Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Banks and Brian Dennehy. Directed by Robert J. Lewis. Rated M (Violence and coarse language). 133 minutes.
Have you had the experience while watching a film, a new film, that you have actually seen a lot of it before but can’t remember where? Fans of French films who have not checked where The Next Three Days derives from may well have this sometimes alarming déjà vu. It was a relief at the end to find that it is based on a French drama of only two years ago, Pour Elle (Anything for Her) with Diane Kruger and Yvan Attal.. No wonder it was familiar.
France has been replaced by the US, Pittsburg specifically. Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah) has adapted the plot well and Americanised it very satisfactorily.
It begins as a drama and ends as a thriller, probably quite far-fetched, but suspenseful as the last part unfolds.
Russell Crowe plays a loving husband and father (real life mellowing him?). Elizabeth Banks plays his wife. Suddenly, police intrude into their home and arrest her, charging her with murder. Circumstantial evidence brings a guilty verdict and a long sentence. Her husband visits her faithfully. Her little son affects indifference because she doesn’t come home. Can anything be done?
This is a story where a fairly laidback and genial teacher devises a plan to effect his wife’s escape from prison. He studies various ways this might be done. He interviews a man who escaped many times and has written a book about it (a solid cameo from Liam Neeson). Gradually, after a long time of hit and miss experiments and testing possibilities, he does make a plan. The question, of course, is, once it is under way, will it work, will the unexpected happen (it does) and can they possibly get away.
While the first part of the film is fairly measured and spends a lot of time building up the characters and showing how the plan might seem a folly, the execution of the plan is effective and tense. Part of the effectiveness of the film is that the family seem fairly ordinary (with Brian Dennehy as the grandfather along with other relatives). Audiences can identify with them, with the shock of the arrest and the prospect of ruined lives.
Entertaining even if you have doubts afterwards that this kind of thing could really happen.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out February 3 2010.