Next Three Days, The

The Next Three Days The Next Three Days The Next Three Days The Next Three Days The Next Three Days

Middlebrow sensibility and heavy-handed (if also honest) approach define the work of Paul Haggis as a writer-director (“Crash,” “In the Valley of Elah”), and if there’s a genre that he really is not adept at it is the thriller. 

His new film, “The Next Three Days,” which he scripted and helmed, and is a loose remake of the far better French suspenser “Pour Elle” (which translates into “For Her”), is not the right material for him, as it displays his major shortcomings as a filmmaker, who may be convened with integrity but not with plausibility..
 
We don’t expect complete plausibility from our mystery thrillers, but we like to believe that their creators have paid some attention to authenticity and credibility, two issues that are neglected by Haggis. These shortcomings may not be a function of Haggis’ carelessness (if anything, Haggis is too concerned with integrity) as of lack of the right skills to make a shapely, engaging and exciting suspenseful thriller.
 
And so Haggis, perhaps aware of his weaknesses, has built the entire tale around the film’s star, Russell Crowe, whose performance as an ordinary man placed in extraordinary conditions, is the only good thing about the movie.
 
“The Next Three Days” very much follows the structure of a classic narrative, beginning with a state of balance, in this case, the happy marriage of John Brennan (Crowe), a community college professor, and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks).
 
The narrative’s second part, that of imbalance (or disequilibrium), occurs, when, out of the blue, after spending a nice night out, Lara is arrested for murder, leaving Brennan, who’s in a complete state of shocking disbelief, to take care of their young, bright son, Luke (Ty Simpkins).
 
Alert and intelligent, Brennan uses rational means to defend his wife. Three years into Lara’s ordeal find John struggling to hold his family together, raising their son and teaching at college while he pursues every means available to prove her innocence. 
 
When various appeals fail and Lara tries to commit suicide, Brennan realizes that in order to get his wife out of jail, he might need to resort to illegitimate means. Refusing to be deterred by impossible odds or his own inexperience, Brennan devises a carefully elaborate escape plot, which plunges him into a dangerous and unfamiliar world, ultimately risking everything for the woman he loves.
 
After consulting with a prison-break specialist (Liam Neeson), Brennan works out a detailed plan involving stolen keys, forged papers, counterfeit passports, and several trips to a crime-riddled Pittsburgh neighborhood. Maps and photos cover the walls of his home, while his parents (Brian Dennehy and Helen Carey) begin to speculate about his absences. An emergency throws Brennan into action, with a tighter deadline for solving his problems.
As a morality tale, “Three Next Days” places viewer at the center, forcing us to ask ourselves, “What would I do if the person I love was suddenly arrested and taken from me–maybe forever? What if my only chance to pull my family’s life back from the brink is trying to pull off a potentially deadly crime with impossible odds of success? 
 
But these questions are posed and answered by Haggis in a conflicted way, and thus the film is on the one had too self-conscious and on the other too pretentious (like most of Haggis’ films as a director).  As a result, “Three Next Days” never unfolds a tightly taut and emotionally involving suspense thriller. The plot and its premises call for a lighter touch and for a director who’s adept at genre moviemaking.
 
As text, “Three Next Days” does not call for the psychologically rich, morally probing approach that Haggis had tried, but only semi-successfully achieved, in “Crash,” which inexplicably won the Best Picture Oscar in 2005 (defeating the far superior Ang Lee’s “BrokebackMountain”).
 
Problem is, Haggis is not a smooth pr proficient genre director, and “Next Three Days” is laden with broader symbolic meanings. Making things worse is Haggis’ lack of sharp technical skills, the know-how to stage chases and action set-pieces that are integral to the pleasures generated by this kind of film.  Several sequences of this sharply uneven picture look and feel like episodes in a routine TV Movie of the Week.
 
With all my criticism, “Next Three Days” is not without merits. Russell Crowe gives a decently compelling (though not great) performance as the kind of hero not often seen in film, a keenly intelligent, methodical, but otherwise unremarkable man, an ordinary man whose actions are driven by desperation, determination and love.