It's hard to root for a guy who is stuck in the dead center of his own despair.
If you decide to see The Next Three Days, be warned that the title is a gentle hint that three days long is just what this movie feels like. It opens with a bang and then descends into a prolonged lethargy that erupts in a final period of blazing action. I must add that even in the closing chaos, Russell Crowe manages to confine things to a slow crawl. And believe me, the movie is his to make or break since he's on screen for most of the two hour plus running time.
As Crowe moves through a very weak script in one flat note, he never invites us in. He plays John, a husband who adores his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and son Luke. Their perfect life is destroyed in an instant when police roar into their house to arrest Lara for murder. Circumstantial evidence brings her a twenty year prison sentence. She had passed by the murder scene in a parking garage; her coat bore a spot of the victim's blood; her fingerprints were on the weapon. Ninety interminable minutes pass before this bad news is explained.
During the next three years, John dedicates himself to proving his wife's innocence. When the final legal appeal is denied, he knows the only solution is a jail break. It's here that both the script and Mr. Crowe let us down. Though determined, John never develops a plan that is either credible or cohesive. Exploring one idea here, another there, he learns from the internet how to make a "bump key" that will open any lock, but never gives us the feeling that he might succeed in springing poor Lara. This guy doesn't seem up to the job. He is, after all, a school teacher, not a crook.
It's hard to root for a guy who stays stuck in the dead center of his own despair. As much as we try to push it away, a wave of disapproval washes over us: "Aw, come on, Russell; you can do better than that." For most of this long period, he simply broods. This is all preparation for a jailbreak that most probably will fail. The planner is neither precise nor clever. Liam Neeson, a baseball cap hiding his celebrity, is terrific as a break-in mentor to John as he warns him "You want this too much; you'll screw it up."
Elizabeth Banks is wonderful as an angry woman in the first strong scene where she inadvertently establishes a motive for the upcoming murder. She manages to convey the only real emotion in the script whenever we see her, but once she's in jail, Crowe turns the picture to dull color. Am I asking for The Gladiator? Not really; I like John, the community college teacher with conscience (a Prius). But given the violence director Paul Haggis pours on his characters, we all could have used just a touch of color from Bonnie and Clyde.
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