The Brennan family life is thrown into turmoil when wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Husband John (Russell Crowe) pursues every legal path to secure an appeal but the courts deny it. With no hope of a retrial Lara attempts suicide, driving John to desperate measures to free his beloved wife in “The Next Three Days.”
Director-writer Paul Haggis adapts the original French screenplay, “Pour Elle,” by Fred Cavaye and Guillaume Lemans, and brings it to Middle America in an action thriller that pits one man against the system that has wrongly convicted his wife. When Lara’s last appeal is denied, John is at wits end on what to do. In desperation, he seeks the help of Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson in a terrific cameo performance), the man who has broken out of prison no less than seven times. Pennnington warns Brennan that if he goes through with his plan to spring Lara, he will need to give up everything, including his identity.
John must enter the sordid underworld to find fake IDs for him, Lara and son Luke (Ty Simpkins) but his first effort ends in a brutal beating and robbery. Undeterred, he continues on his quest and finally finds a source for the false papers he needs to make their getaway. The passport guy warns John, “You want this too much. You’re gonna f**k it up,” and hands him the forged passports, driver’s licenses and everything else they will need to go on the lam. Now, John just has to figure out how, exactly, he will break Lara out of jail before she is transferred to a maximum security prison. This is when Haggis and company ramp up the action and the tension of “The Next Three Days.”
Initially, Russell Crowe seemed like the wrong actor to portray everyman John Brennan. His performance is vague for the first 15 minutes and his co-stars, Elizabeth Banks in particular, out shine Crowe. Once things really set in motion, the actor hits his stride and becomes the hero we want. Banks is terrific as the innocent Lara (or, is she?) and makes the anxiety of facing life in prison, and never holding her son again, believable. The rest of the supporting cast do a good job in making their characters fully dimensioned. Techs are good on all levels.
Prison break films are usually hardboiled thrillers that show their players in a harsh light. Paul Haggis turns the table on the genre and makes it a David vs. Goliath with the life of a man’s wife put on the line. The ending is expected but getting there is what “The Last Three Days” is all about. Good filmmaking, storytelling and acting make this a worthwhile action film that is suited for the big screen or small. I give it a B.
During an evening out, Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") has a nasty argument with her brother-in-law's girlfriend Erit (Moran Atias, TV's 'Crash') that's rather jaw-dropping, but that's nothing compared to what happens the next morning - police arrive to charge Lara with the murder of her boss. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is devastated and firmly convinced of his wife's innocence, but nothing goes in her favor. When even Lara's lawyer has no hope, John begins to plan an elaborate prison escape, but a slip up during a visit casts suspicion and they discover Lara's going to be moved to another facility in "The Next Three Days."
Adapting the French film "Pour Elle," writer/director Paul Haggis ("Crash") keeps us one step behind his protagonist's thinking. We watch English professor John Brennan's character develop (a quote from Don Quixote about reality versus the power of the imagined figures prominently) and we see him putting pieces of his plan into action, but it is not until the film's big climax that we see how everything fits together. It's quite a suspenseful ride and Elizabeth Banks gives a passionately ambiguous performance - it's as if she's been directed like Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca," not knowing which way her character was going to go.
The Brennan family dynamic is set at the breakfast table. Young son Luke (Ty Simpkins, "Revolutionary Road") is adored, but John's relationship with his own father (Brian Dennehy) isn't warm and toasty. These relationships will figure prominently in how John's plan works out. After meeting with Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), the author of 'Over the Walls,' John begins to hang around criminal elements trying to procure such things as falsified passports, and sometimes his endeavors backfire. He creates a detailed chart on his living room wall noting his progress and his timetable - Pennington warned he'd have under 30 minutes to get out of Pittsburgh proper before blockades go up and this timetable will help drive the suspense. Lara is struggling, unaware of her husband's plans. Her son will not speak to her. She attempts suicide. She tells her husband she is guilty of the crime. Everything just spurs John on. When the unanticipated deadline is handed to him, he cannot sell his house quickly enough to get the large amounts of cash Pennington said would be necessary, so he attempts to rob Alex (Kevin Corrigan, "Unstoppable") at his drug lab. Things go horribly wrong, but Brennan does get the cash. He also leaves another trail for the police.
Crowe is quiet, head down, as Brennan, but leaves enough chinks to allow a couple of people to detect trouble. One is Olivia Wilde's ("Year One," TV's 'House') Nicole, a single mom with a romantic interest until Brennan tells her just why his wife isn't around. Their connection is an interesting one which, again, is utilized in the plotting. Another is his dad George, whom Dennehy makes say volumes with few words - their parting scene packs an emotional wallop. Banks has never been better.
The opening scene is problematic because it just doesn't seem plausible that Brennan's brother would be with a woman who would announce to his sister-in-law that she could steal her husband in no time flat if she put her mind to it and the final countdown stretches credulity, but even when it does, it's so dynamically shot or so cleverly plotted the ride is an enjoyable one. Never has a scene of a man cutting through a fence with some wire cutters had such nice resonance. Brennan may have superhuman abilities to anticipate cracks in his plan, but on the whole, "The Next Three Days" presents several moral conundrums within the trappings of an exciting thriller.
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