Lionsgate // 2010 // 133 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // March 8th, 2011
Russell Crowe in a prison break film? Sounds like a good one to me.
The marketing of this film was pretty misleading. You see lots of Russell Crowe with a gun, some cars squealing around corners, quick editing and footchases. But then they follow it with "From the director of Crash." That right there tells you there is more going on in this film than meets the eye.
John (Russell Crowe, Robin Hood) and Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) share a happy life with their son Luke (Ty Simpkins). Lara is having some issues with her boss at work. Nothing is too surprising about that, until the cops bust into their home and arrest Lara on charges of murder.
Three years later Lara's final appeal is denied because the evidence against her is too strong. John can not accept this fact and decides that he has to break his wife out of jail before she is transferred to a federal prison. He begins by researching past jail breaks and eventually interviews ex-con Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson, Taken) who gives him some helpful tips.
Getting the plan set up and ready takes time and money. Soon John is running out of both. Lara shows him the order, in three days she's being transferred to the Federal prison. John has no choice but to make his move and hope they can escape with Luke, before the police figure out what's happening.
Paul Haggis has done quite a bit of script work on some excellent films including Casino Royale and Million Dollar Baby. He is able to give his characters depth, and when played by skilled actors these characters resonate with audiences.
When Haggis saw the french thriller Pour Elle, he saw an opportunity to take those characters, give them more of a backstory and focus on how far John is willing to go to make his plan work. That is the crux of the film, to save his wife, John must become a criminal.
Haggis has created some masterful scenes based on this theme. The key moment for John occurs when he meets Damon, the ex-con. As Damon describes the mindset required to escape from prison, as well the actions that it will require, we see John absorbing it all and understanding that he's going to have to change drastically to make this work. Lara has a similar revelation late in the story where she realizes all that the escape entails. The script offers no words to show this, it's up to the actress to deliver the emotional punch.
Luckily the cast is up to the task. Russell Crowe is in his everyman mode, and I actually prefer this to his tough guy mode. John is a teacher, and Crowe really makes us believe that. The way he carries himself, and reacts to things are very believable. As the movie progresses and the choices get tougher and tougher, we believe that John is destroying the teacher he was to become the criminal he needs to be.
Elizabeth Banks provides an excellent performance in her role as Lara. We see early on that she has a temper, and when she is charged for murder we are never shown exactly what happened. We see that John can't ever believe that she killed anyone. However, the way Banks plays the part keeps us wondering if she did kill her boss. But Banks also makes Lara's devotion to her husband and son very clear. Luke has grown distant from his mother as the years have passed, and the pain on her face as she tries to accept this is very real.
The supporting cast is also worth noting. Liam Neeson's part is small but vital to the The Next Three Days. His words echo throughout the planning and execution of the jail break. He brings just the right amount of gravitas to the roll. Brian Dennehy does a great job as John's father, George. He has little dialogue but his glances and body language say all that needs to be said as he watches his son go deeper into the darkness. Lennie James as Lieutenant Nabulsi plays the role of the detective piecing together the plan. This is a smart guy who is just one step behind John as the jail break starts. His determination is palatable.
Lionsgate provides a good combo pack. The Blu-ray looks great in 1080P image. Haggis uses various styles of camerawork and they all look nice and clear. The night sequences are balanced well with the blacks looking sharp. The only issue I had was with the sound mix. Dialogue was very quiet at times, especially during the more intimate conversations. When violence erupted the gunshots, shouting and tire squealing was way too loud. You might want to keep your volume control handy.
You get a good set of extras on this disc. First up is a commentary track including director/writer Paul Haggis, producer Marc Missonnier and editor Jo Francis. The three provide a pretty steady stream of comments filling you in on everything from writing the script up to editing the final product. It gets a bit technical at times, but its worth a listen. Next you get a set of featurettes. The "Making of" covers a bit of the same ground as the commentary track, but also including interviews with cast members. It runs about 18 minutes. Then there is "The Men of The Next Three Days." No, it's not a photo gallery of Liam and Russell. Instead it consists of interviews with Crowe, Dennehy and cast and crew members as they talk about the characters of John, Damon and George. Liam isn't interviewed, but lots of folks talk about his one day shoot. It runs for six minutes. Then you get the odd "True Escapes for Love," which plays out like something from a true crime channel. Actor Jason Beghe who plays Detective Quinn in the film, goes over some real jail breaks done in the name of love. It's interesting if a bit fluffy. It runs about seven minutes. An outtakes reel called "Cast Moments" rounds out the extras on the Blu-ray disc.
Of course this combo pack includes the DVD version of the film as well as way to get a digital copy of the film. So now you can watch The Next Three Days anywhere you like.
What Haggis has done with the script is a mixed blessing. On the one hand you get some great performances. On the other, the movie is really uneven, never building up like a good thriller should. Instead it always seems to slow down for a character moment, or two or three. A little of this is fine, but it never seems completely organic.
In the commentary track Haggis says that the original cut of the film stretched out over three hours. This cut is over two. Really a thriller needs to be lean and mean, clocking in under two hours is usually the best bet. Haggis has created a drama that culminates into a thriller, but the way there is not smooth. The final result is a movie that feels like it's taking too long to get to the climax. But once it hits, you'll be riveted.
In the end, the story construction ends up hurting the film. It's still worth checking out, making for a fine night's entertainment, but it lacks the staying power of a classic thriller.
Review content copyright © 2011 Roman Martel; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Cinema Verdict Review