A woman is convicted of murder and her husband decides to break her out of jail in The Next Three Days, an eventually, briefly, kinda fun caper movie.
In the last three years, the suburban life of the Brennan family has fallen to pieces. Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested and eventually convicted of murder, a crime she says she did not commit. Despite all attempts by her husband John (Russell Crowe) to get the verdict overturned on appeal, he seems to have run out of options. Meanwhile, Luke (Ty Simpkins), their son who was a boisterous three-year-old when she was arrested, has grown into a quiet elementary-schooler. With no hope of getting out through the legal system and estranged from her son, Lara attempts suicide. And it is, we infer, this that sets John looking for a less-than-legal route to freedom.
A professor at a community college, John uses his class as an excuse to talk to Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a man who was once in prison and escaped. Damon quickly picks up on John’s ulterior motive and gives him the road map for planning a prison break. John begins researching everything that happens at the prison, which is in urban Pittsburgh — other trucks that come to the facility, guards and what the procedures are for letting people in and out, points of entry.
Structurally, what the movie does makes sense. We see the situation and how hopeless it is for Lara — even if she is innocent, she is damned by the evidence. Then we get John’s study of the criminal arts. He looks up prisons at the library and gets a tutorial on how to Photoshop pictures (to help make new passports). He keeps track of prison routines and watches YouTube videos on how to pick a lock. He also tries to get as much money as possible — selling his house and furniture — but loses some of it along the way on dead ends, like when he’s jumped while asking drug dealers for the name of a good forger. And in the final section — the next three days — we get the escape. Naturally, that’s the most exciting part, the big payoff. But I wish the run-up hadn’t been quite so long. It’s interesting to watch this regular shmo turn into somebody who is threatening drug dealers and buying guns, but it would be more interesting if it didn’t take as long to get to the good stuff.
And I definitely had to warm to this movie. For the first, maybe, 40 minutes it felt like a dud. Then, somewhere nearing an hour it started to seem not so bad. And then in the final 45 minutes we got to the movie the trailers suggested — one with energy and some cleverness.
I think part of this slow boil is the main actors. Though giving decent performances, Crowe and Banks don’t quite mesh with the parts. Crowe in particular feels like the wrong kind of guy in this role. He doesn’t have the energy or the tension the part seems to require — it takes a pick-up in the movie’s action to make him seem active. There’s an intensity — one that, say, Hilary Swank put into her role in the get-a-relative-out-of-prison movie Conviction — that is missing in Crowe.
The Next Three Days is a short, fun caper movie that you get to see after a little more than an hour of a plodding drama. But the final third is more or less worth the initial effort. B-
Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements. Directed by Paul Haggis and written by Haggis (from the screenplay of Pour Elle by Fred Cavaye and Guillaume Lemans),The Next Three Days is two hours and two minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Lionsgate.