We’ve all heard the stories of regular people performing superhuman acts when confronted with a horrific situation—you know, the mom who lifts a car to save her trapped baby…
In The Next Three Days, schlub-ish community college professor John Brennan’s wife gets slapped with a 20-year sentence for a murder she may or may not have committed. He then becomes superhuman, planning (over the course of three years) every intricate aspect of her jailbreak. Unfortunately, it’s a story that forces you to suspend disbelief almost as much as the Honda-hefting mommy.
Written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash), The Next Three Days is yet another ‘not-terrible-but-could-have-been-so-much-better’ movie. The learning process that John (Russell Crowe) undertakes to plan the jailbreak is terrifically interesting, and the actual bust-out itself provides a solid thirty minutes of high tension, edge-of-your-seat action.
The biggest issues here, though, are that Crowe is about a decade too old for the part, and the plot holes come so fast and furious in the final act, that you’ll leave more frustrated than fulfilled.
The story opens with Lara Brennan talking about how she just got done arguing with her boss, the same woman who, it turns out, is now lying dead in a parking garage across town. The next morning, the cops barge into the Brennan’s Pittsburgh homestead and arrest Lara in front of John and their six-year-old son. As John soon finds out, it’s an open-and-shut case—Lara was spotted at the scene of the crime, she has the victim’s blood on her coat, and her fingerprints were all over the murder weapon.
Not content with what he believes is a miscarriage of justice, he exhausts every appeal (the culmination of which results in one of the film’s best scenes—a tearful, wordless exchange between husband and wife). When he realizes he has no other recourse, John begins his quest to get Lara out of jail.
First on his list is meeting up with seven-time escapee turned best-selling author, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson, in what amounts to a two-minute cameo), who gives John all the advice he needs to get the ball rolling.
Over the course of the next hour, John learns everything he can about jailbreaks, from fabricating a ‘jump key’ to breaking into a vehicle using only a tennis ball. He studies routines, patterns, escape routes, and he even ventures into the seedy part of town to get fake passports and drivers’ licenses. The more research he does, the more superhuman he becomes; twenty minutes (in screen time) after he asks a gun store clerk ‘where the bullets go’, he’s deftly emptying the gun’s contents into a neighborhood junkie while lying on his back and shooting through a banister. Huh, what?
Crowe is perfectly fine for the first hour; his quiet, unassuming manner is spot-on. It’s only when he evolves out of his shell that The Next Three Days loses something. Why not keep John the same flustered novice he’s been all along? It would certainly keep the story interesting and help it be that much more believable.
As for the casting, the issue’s apparent whenever Crowe shares screen time with Banks. She’s ten years his junior, though the gap appears even more wide due to his graying hair and stubble and her stunning, almost girlish, good looks. Their individual performances are both great, but the lack of chemistry and the fact that he looks like he could almost be her father, prove more than a little distracting. And then, to add insult to injury, John catches the eye of a young woman at the local park (played by Olivia Wilde, fully twenty years younger than Crowe). Seriously?
When the actual jailbreak rolls around, the action kicks into high gear, but it’s too-often marred by coincidences and convenient near misses. If you can keep yourself from muttering, ‘Come ON!’ under your breath at least a few times, you’re stronger than me.
In the end, The Next Three Days does its best to keep you entertained (not to mention give you all the information you need to break a pal out of the nearest lockup), but may just take a superhuman effort on your part to overlook its shortcomings and really enjoy it.