The Next Three Days feels like a week or so

The Next Three Days – 2011

Directed by Paul Haggis

Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wilde, Jason Beghe

Written by Haggis and Fred Cavayé

The Next Three Days is a well-intentioned, methodical, and ultimately plodding remake of a French film (written and directed by Cavayé) called Anything for Her.  It follows its own thin logic as far as it can, setting off as many good ideas as it does reaches.  There is some good acting talent in this film, but I can’t necessarily say it is put to great use all or even most of the time.  There is a true feeling of desperation in this film, at first, you feel it from Russell Crowe’s portrayal of John Brennan, but by the time the planning for the breakout gets to a dull roar, you begin to wonder why they had to make a movie that seems so…average.

Then, however, you begin to see evidence of the true Haggis talent in film making: supporting cast.  When Crash won best picture back in 2005, a furious set of arrogant elitists in Hollywood railed against the film.  A large part of this was due to the fact that Brokeback Mountain, a one note propaganda piece designed to swing the closet doors permanently open in the movie business.  Another aspect was the fact that Haggis was a Scientologist at the time.  Rarely did you hear what made Crash unworthy.  That’s because there weren’t many flaws in that film.  Instead of being a star vehicle that brings acting awards, it was a collection of supporting roles weaving through a cohesively written story expressing a singular theme of how we’re all connected.  The important things about that film are the best things about this one.

Russell Crowe moves through the film in a determined way as a man who sees his wife (Banks) arrested and then convicted

Crowe makes this and only this face through the movie.

of a crime that he believes she did not commit.  That crime, the murder of her boss, is played in a series of flashbacks that are both convenient and selective.  We are left to think that she could have done it, but her husband does not doubt it for a second.  If he did doubt it, the movie might be a little more interesting through the middle section.  Instead, we see a believable and somewhat lethargic series of events where he solicits the advice of a famous multiple time escapee (an underused Neeson), gets some tips, and then goes on to follow his advice, to somewhat precarious ends.  This sequence of the film reminded me of some of those darker films of the 70’s like Paul Schrader and George C. Scott’s Hardcore.  A normal guy, in the midst of the criminal underground, being exposed to shocking behavior that he trudges though all in a quest to recover the one that he loves safe in his arms again.

This worked very recently in another Neeson film, Taken, but that film had a true menace working in the background.  In this film, the real killer is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, there is this conviction out there, represented by some reasonable police officers.  Essentially, Brennan is working against circumstantial evidence, and nothing more.  So when he gets roughed up looking for a fake passport, then gets in a row with local meth dealers, the events seem somewhat disconnected from this film, and instead part of some other movie.

So at the end of the research period, you start to notice some seemingly peripheral characters emerge from the woodwork.  The first of these characters is a mother of one of the friends of Brennan’s little boy, played by Olivia Wilde.  There are interactions of real sweetness between Brennan and this woman, and you begin to think that perhaps this preparation might go sideways, and he could find a real happiness outside of his obsession.  The development of their relationship is very smooth and it works within the context of the story.  The turn it takes is integral to the story, and it lets the mind wander for a while.

A second, important character development in this time frame is the role of Brennan’s father, portrayed by Dennehy in one of

Dennehy adds a solemnity to an already solemn film.

his strongest performances since First Blood.  He does not have many scenes, but each of them lead to something, even if his greatest action is something he doesn’t do.

Jason Beghe plays a cop who happens to notice a few things about Brennan at some very opportune times.  The character would be a stretch were it not for his absolute mastery of the role.  He is clean and casual as anyone that plays in any of the latter-day Eastwood films.  His is the kind of face that is usually reserved for minor characters of limited intelligence.  The way Haggis uses him, though, is indicative of his recognition of acting talent in the working class.  His easy nature gives some real grist to what would normally have been a thankless role.

The last third of the film is a decent change of pace.  There are some brilliant maneuvers that I was not at all expecting and some moments of true menace where you wonder about the sanity of his wife who he has worked so hard to save.  Banks plays this role half off her rocker, making decisions that could be seen either as the act of a heartbroken mother or someone who is truly out of her gourd.  Then they move back to rationality.  The effect is truly odd.

Crowe, is a more in his element at this point, given somewhere to go and something to evade.  The train station moment is brilliant, and the garbage bags, while a tad obvious, is a nice touch.

What this movie does is show that Haggis knows how to utilize character actors.  Crowe is one note throughout, but it is not through any fault of his acting.  This is all the performance that was required.  Banks is forgettable in her role.  Drama doesn’t seem to be a strong suit.

I find that looking back on The Next Three Days that the most memorable aspects are the players on the under-card.  Many people think that the multi-layered opus films like Crash, Traffic and Babel have been played out.  I am not as sure this is the case.  It requires a talent for getting the most of  your character actors is a rare find.  When Haggis falls back on this like his solid eight-foot jumper in basketball, he becomes a force in the court of film making.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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