Friday, January 07, 2011

Review - The Next Three Days

The French film Anything for Her has a very silly plot, but it knows how to get away with such silliness. The film concerns an ordinary schoolteacher whose wife is arrested for a murder that she claims she didn't commit, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. After appealing for three years with no success, and watching his defeated wife drift towards suicide, the teacher decides to break her out of jail himself, and as ridiculous as this plot became, the film remained a riveting thriller because writer/director Fred CavayƩ kept it moving. Anything for Her is a slick and tight production, with the story being told at a fast pace that didn't give us time to get bored and start picking holes in the plot. This is the crucial ingredient in the film's success, and it's an ingredient that The Next Three Days unfortunately lacks.

The Next Three Days is Paul Haggis' remake of Anything for Her, and the first thing to note is the film's running time. The original movie clocked in at a brisk 96 minutes while this one runs to 122, and in a movie like this, every minute counts. Haggis fails to justify his excessive duration by adding any significant new twists or layers to the drama, so all we have is a movie that takes a lot more time over the same story, which Haggis has failed to make any more believable. One morning, while having breakfast with her husband John (Russell Crowe) and their young son, a shocked Lara (Elizabeth Banks, drained of her usual brightness) is arrested for the murder of her boss, whom we know she had an argument with the night before. The evidence appears conclusive – Lara has blood on her coat, she was caught on camera entering and leaving the scene of crime, and her fingerprints are on the weapon – but she maintains her innocence and John, bless him, believes her.

It would have been interesting if Haggis had rewritten the story so that Lara actually was guilty of the crime and yet John's love for her compelled him to break her out anyway. It would have added a sense of uncertainty and moral complexity to his quest, but moral complexity is not something Haggis appears to be striving for. Lara is innocent (the circumstances surrounding her non-involvement in the murder are ridiculous) and John's cause is righteous. When he decides to go ahead with his audacious plan, Haggis spends an inordinate amount of time detailing the steps he needs to go through in order to pull it off. He gets advice from an ex-con (Liam Neeson in a one-scene cameo), sells everything he has to raise funds, monitors the routines of the prison's staff, gets new passports from a forger (who, in an interesting move, is deaf), and learns how to pick locks and break into cars from internet tutorials. Throughout all of this, however, we're just waiting for John to put his long-gestating plan into action, and we couldn't care less if he succumbs to the flirtatious advances of Olivia Wilde or not.

Despite its longueurs and the typical obviousness of Haggis' storytelling, The Next Three Days holds the attention well enough. Crowe is convincing as the regular guy slowly transforming into a wily criminal, with his sturdy presence gives the film an important anchor, and Haggis occasionally succeeds in staging sequences that ratchet up a sense of tension, even if he always runs the risk of pushing it too far (the hilariously dreadful car spinout is a low point). That's the Haggis way, though; he simply doesn't know when to quit. The Next Three Days had the potential to be a sharp, involving thriller and instead he has turned in a flaccid, mediocre one with little freshness and no surprises. Even if you haven't seen Anything for Her, you'll be able to predict at every step of the way how The Next Three Days is going to end, and you'll wonder why it's taking quite so long to arrive at its destination.