The Next Three Days is a just a chase movie. But what a chase movie!
Not Something Decent People Do
Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is imprisoned for murder. All the legal appeals fail. All that’s left is for her family to live their lives, she on the inside serving her double life sentence, he (Russell Crowe) on the outside raising their son (Ty Simpkins).
But rather than resign himself, John decides to bust Lara out, and seeks the help of someone who has actually done it. He finds an ex-con and author (Liam Neeson in a brief but powerful appearance) who says that “no prison in the world is airtight.” He tells John he has to be very thorough and completely determined. He has to be willing to kill a stranger, abandon his child at a train station, do whatever it takes to stay focused and stay on plan. What it takes, in short, is not something decent people are willing to do. It will cost you your soul.
So John goes to work on the plan.
The middle of the film is a delicious caper flick, with John teaching himself how to pick locks, stake out the prison, and carefully time the perfect escape. The final half hour is the edge-of-your-seat execution of John’s best-laid plans.
The Next Three Days put me on the defensive. Movies like this have the impossible task of making the audience certain that the prisoner is innocent, while making the justice system certain that she is guilty. There were false accusations, wrongful imprisonment... the sorts of legal problems you read about happening in Texas with underpaid lawyers and minority clients, but never with handsome, successful, white East coasters.
Also, director Paul Haggis ( Crash, In the Valley of Elah) serves his drama heavy-handed. A story that uses such a serious injustice as its setup is in danger of becoming thick, earnest, and pompous. Luckily, Haggis keeps the emotion pent-up inside Russell Crowe and instead focuses on the mechanics of escape.
Ultimately, The Next Three Days worked for me. Or maybe it worked on me. The last 30 minutes are damnably tense. In spite of my skepticism, the movie had me squirming in my seat.
Crowe exudes the perfect blend of determination and fear. He has become a criminal yet we want him to succeed. The cops on his tail (Jason Beghe and Aisha Hinds) don’t wish anything bad on John or Lara, yet they are determined to catch him. These ambiguities add to the tension. Along with editing, music, and cinematography, it all builds up to an intense and exhausting finale.
There will be a lot of big movies vying for Oscar attention between now and the end of the year. The Next Three Days is the movie you should go to if you want to skip all that and just let ‘er rip.