I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I sat down in the theater to watch Paul Haggis’ new film THE NEXT THREE DAYS. I had seen a trailer a month or so beforehand, but couldn’t quite remember exactly how it presented the film, since nearly every trailer released lately completely misrepresents the actual tone of the movie. I was aware of the premise and everyone involved so I had a feeling that even if I wasn’t completely with the story that I would at least enjoy the performances by the two leads, which is carries most of the film. I sometimes worry about films that try to span so many different genres especially when you try to make a film that thrills you while also trying to strike an emotional balance. I am actually somewhat surprised to be able to say that THE NEXT THREE DAYS finds a way to mix each of its story elements in a successful and compelling way, but not without a few hiccups.
THE NEXT THREE DAYS follows John Brennan (Russell Crow), a professor at a community college whose wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is suddenly arrested and convicted of the murder of her boss who she had an altercation with the day before at work. John is left alone with his son as he tries appeal after appeal but to no avail, so he faces the reality of having to deal with his wife facing life in prison. After Lara attempts suicide John decides that he has no choice but to try and find a way to make sure that prison does not become her life, so he tirelessly researches and stakes out the routines of the prison with limited funds. The more desperate he becomes the more risks he finds he is willing to take as he gets closer and closer to making the transformation to mild mannered law abiding citizen to a reckless fugitive.
Upon exiting the theater the very first thing that came to mind was that the film felt long. Most films that are consistently entertaining often don’t feel quite as long as they actually are and you never glance at your watch during the course of the film. I don’t wear a watch to the theater anymore specifically to avoid that problem, but when I got about an hour and a half into the film I started feeling that it was running a little long. At the hour and a half mark is actually when things start picking up quite a bit so once we entered the last half hour that feeling subsided, until ultimately it ended and I had to start contemplating what I liked and didn’t like about the film. I really think that the first 45 minutes of the film and the last half hour are some of the most compelling stretches of the film, if you were to combine those two stretches with some choice bits from the middle stretch we could have had a very solid hour and half film. As it stands at just slightly over two hours, when you hit halfway the pace slows down and the next half hour is filled with hit and miss moments that aren’t near as interesting as the rest of the film.
The biggest reason to recommend the film are the performances; Russell Crowe and Elizabeth banks are both fantastic. The journey that Russell Crowe’s character goes through in the film is incredibly captivating even in the slower and less interesting middle half of the film. Elizabeth Banks does not get near enough screen time, but when she is there she gives a very genuine and emotional performance. The success of the film really hangs on the audience’s ability to feel for the two characters and buy into the transformation of Crowe’s character with the clash of ideals between him and Bank’s when the stress of their situation hits its peak. Our enjoyment is also hinged on rather or not we can really connect with the character’s thought process and motivations for what they do and say. In that aspect the film really exceeds; I found myself thinking there’s no way someone would go through all this, but the emotional payoff of the events builds and culminates in such a way that I ended up finally understanding why someone would do this, even if I don’t totally agree with it. All I know is that if it were me in this situation and I was so deadest on going through with the plan, with the complicated nature of what Crowe’s character goes through and with what’s at stake I know that I’d screw it up so I’d just as well walk into the prison take the cop’s cuffs and slap them on myself.
The appearances by Liam Neeson and Kevin Corrigan are very good but brief as well as an appearance by Daniel Stern as Lara and John’s attorney. That’s where many of my slight gripes about the movie fall into place is that when they are there they are extremely brief, aside from my complaint about middle half of the movie dragging. On of my smallest complaints falls at the beginning of the film after the police bust in to arrest Lara; the scene transitions to John and his son and the son is visibly older than before but we have no context to how much time has elapsed except for a brief line of dialogue when they visit Lara in prison, and even then I think that comes a few scenes down the road, so until we have that context we have no idea exactly how long she’s already been in prison. My problem with that is that my mind wondered on how strange the situation instead of going with the film; it’s a minor blip on the radar, but a blip nonetheless.
Aside from the performances the other aspect of the film that justified the price of admission was the final half hour of the film, which I don’t want to spoil, except to say that the building of tension is almost spot on; minus the inclusion of a scene within the last 3 minutes of the film involving a couple of cops which I found incredibly misleading and pointless. Everything leading up to the final moments of the film was done exceedingly well and had me on the edge of my seat.
With THE NEXT THREE DAYS you can spin a wheel with all of the genres it touches on and no matter which one it lands on it’s a near perfect explanation of what it is. Russell Crow and Elizabeth Banks have great chemistry and they both give very compelling performances. Director Paul Haggis weaves and builds tension incredibly well in certain stretches of the film while losing focus somewhere in the middle, but he always manages to rebound. THE NEXT THREE DAYS may not be one of the best films you will see in theaters this year but it without a doubt is pure popcorn entertainment.