MOVIE RATING: 3.5 stars (B)
To my surprise, Russell Crowe’s latest film, The Next Three Days (2010), was a better than expected action/suspense “heist/caper” film. The trailer, and many critical reviews I’ve read, don’t do it justice. But writer/director Paul Haggis came through here in my opinion with a gripping drama that starts slow, but builds the stakes to a good climax. It definitely reminded me of the now classic Harrison Ford vehicle, The Fugitive (1993). But it was a fresh twist on an old concept. It even has a bit of Enemy of the State (1998) and director Tony Scott’s iconic style mixed in for good measure.
The concept of The Next Three Days is pretty simple. It’s a story about a family of three who are living the idyllic modern suburban lifestyle. Elizabeth Banks plays the mother, and seemingly the breadwinner, in the family. One morning, their calm house is stormed by the police and Banks’ character is arrested and charged with murder of her female boss at work. The story pretty much jumps forward three years to where Banks is locked up in jail for life after being found guilty in court. Her husband, played by Russell Crowe, doesn’t believe she’s guilty for a minute, but they could never find evidence of her innocence or the actual killer to take the blame for the crime. Banks’ character can’t seem to deal with the loss of her life and attempts suicide, adding to the pressure that Crowe and their son already feel from their fractured family. So Crowe decides he has to break Banks out of jail. And he finds out exactly what thats going to take from ex-convict Liam Neeson. The rest of the plot goes where you are probably guessing it goes. So I’ll let the film fill in the rest.
I will say that some of the “extraordinary” (or coincidental) circumstances and events within the story make one suspend belief in order to really enjoy the film. Usually these kind of unrealistic and overly “lucky” sequence of events take me out of a film to a degree. But somehow, Haggis and Crowe and the rest of the cast and filmmakers pulled it off with this one. I can see how some film critics and viewers of the film might not let the far fetched conceits of the film work for them. But as I’ve written before, movies by definition are creating a “fantastical” world in which they exist. Every sci-fi or alien movie requires one to suspend belief to some degree. And just because The Next Three Days doesn’t live in one of those genres, doesn’t mean that it can’t ask you to suspend your sense of realism. Enough said!
There’s no doubt in my mind that one of the key aspects of the success of The Next Three Days is Russell Crowe’s performance. He plays a middle-aged, slightly overweight, married father quite well. And yet he also transforms during the course of the movie into a badass criminal. All at the same time he remains a caring father and loving husband. And I think it’s that process of personal transformation with his character that makes the film interesting. The first hour of the film is a little too slow in that process maybe, but it does really build-up to the engaging third act of the movie. I think maybe the writing and editing could have been a little tighter to keep the movie moving along more. But after listening to an Apple “Meet The Filmmaker” podcast with director Paul Haggis defending his purposely slow build-up in the first half of the film, I can also buy into that philosophy. But I think if the film did have a little faster pace to it, it would elevate the film to higher level at least in my eyes. Nonetheless, this is a successful film and it works.
The production values in The Next Three Days are really solid like so many films today. The cinematography from Stéphane Fontaine is good, but nothing I haven’t seen before. The production design by Laurence Bennett is also well done and gives us very realistic sets and locations for the story to take place in. Sound Editing led by Renee Tondelli is really well executed with a full array of surround sounds we all expect now in an action film of this type. And I was very impressed with Danny Elfman’s music. He continues to shine and gives this film a better score than one like this typically gets. And I do think that is part of what helps elevate The Next Three Days above its peers like Unstoppable (2010).
I missed seeing The Next Three Days in the theater last year, but it was a nice surprise seeing it in HD recently. I continue to be amazed at how much better many movies look at home on blu-ray or in HD than they do in the theater. The theaters really need to invest in modern digital projection technology and bring back the aura of the cineplex. While I can’t make the direct comparison here, my intuition tells me that I didn’t miss anything in this film’s theatrical presentation. And I couldn’t have asked for a better home theater presentation. The high definition mastering of this film is about as good as it gets. So give your living room an aural shake-up with The Next Three Days.
Check out details on this film and its excellent Blu-ray presentation at Blu-ray.com.