Paul Haggis’ prison break thriller delivers a great final act but fails to make us care about the characters at all in the film’s preceding two acts essentially neutering the emotional impact of the film.
The film is finely acted, has a very intriguing premise in the reverse jail break, and is pretty clever in it’s progression of the escape plot. What doesn’t work is little to no characterization, characters doing things completely out of the blue with no validation, and a perplexing handling of the “did she do it” portion of the plot.
Speaking of the plot, it revolves around a young family that is torn apart when the mother, Lara, is abruptly arrested for the murder of a colleague she had recently a large argument with in the workplace. After the appeals process runs out, her husband, John, abruptly decides to break her out of prison. He tracks down an escape artist out of the blue and this sets in motion the steps he begins to take to try and free Lara from prison.
It is that abrupt undertaking of trying to break Lara out of prison that is one of the first missteps in the opening acts. The decision happens so fast that we almost don’t even realize what is happening and before we know it John is up to his ears in plotting. Luckily the film doesn’t all of a sudden make John an expert escapist and they throw in many trials and tribulations along the way. John’s plan doesn’t go off without a hitch by any means and it is interesting to watch him figure his way through the process.
While this is interesting to watch the film gives us no reason to care about John, his son, or Lara. Lara’s presumed innocence or guilt is kept very much in limbo so we can’t really ever get excited by John’s progress or root for him. I feel like we could have also used a couple more scenes with John and his son as well as I felt like their bond was lazily developed and banked on the viewers connection with the father son bond. What I think most hurt the film’s emotional investment was the limbo of Lara’s incident. While it is resolved by the end of the film it isn’t until its final moments that it is revealed. While it was intriguing to make us uneasy if John was putting in all this effort for a guilty woman it didn’t work to properly invest us in the film; at least in this viewer’s opinion.
The film’s third act, while superior to the first two, still does run into a couple issues even. When the film gets really good it is surprising that the scene that launches it is another decision by John that is completely out of left field. I have to applaud Haggis for making the ridiculous decision work but there is no reasoning in the characterization of John that he would take the steps that he does. In the final pursuit the filmmakers use this back and forth between John and a couple of cops that are hunting him down that is supposed to build tension but it becomes ridiculous as we go through five, six, or seven of these contrived moments. Not only is the never ending stream of clues a bit tiresome, but these must be the best cops on the face of the earth to catch all of these clues over a matter of hours. The filmmakers do use one decent device to try to explain this, but it isn’t enough.
Russell Crowe is a bit too solemn, yet still very good, as John though I wish he showed a bit more energy and life in his character. Crowe is one of my favorite actors but the character here is so relaxed and methodical most of the time that it hinders the intensity and urgency of the picture. Elizabeth Banks does a fine job as usual in a rare dramatic role and while her character doesn’t get much screen time she is still able to appropriately convey her character’s state of mind. Liam Neeson has one scene in the film as the escape artist but is great as always and makes a fine impact in only a few minutes. Olivia Wilde also has a small role as a Mom of one of John’s son’s classmates but sadly isn’t given a whole lot to do. Kevin Corrigan and Brian Dennehy are equally wasted with little to nothing to do in their brief appearances.
In the end, The Next Three Days is a really interesting premise that falls short as much as it executes on the reverse jail break scenario it sets out to create. Failing to give us any good reasons to care about John and his family limits the potential emotional impact of the very good final act. Crowe gives a solid yet subdued performance but the script is so devoid of any emotional resonance he can’t elevate the material much beyond what is on the page. The film is engaging from nearly start to finish; it just doesn’t work as well as it could have. Either way, it’s an interesting little thriller; too bad if falls short of its potential.
The Next Three Days is a C+