Best known as the filmmaker who inflicted Crash upon the world, Paul Haggis turns his attention to popcorn entertainment in The Next Three Days, a remake of a 2008 French thriller released in English-speaking countries as Anything for Her. It stars Russell Crowe as John Brennan, a Pittsburgh community college lecturer who lives happily with his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and their young son (Ty Simpkins) until the day the cops swoop in and arrest Lara for murdering her boss after a workplace altercation.
Three years later, Lara is a convicted killer, her appeals exhausted and her family near bankruptcy. When the news comes down that she’s about to be transferred to a distant facility, John accelerates his long-gestating plan to bust her out of Allegheny County Jail.
John is so invested in the idea that he doesn’t even care much whether Lara’s actually innocent. We do, though, because if she’s guilty then we can expect someone in her family to die in the escape attempt, but if she’s innocent, then they have a chance. Haggis doesn’t clear up this question until the very end and in so doing plays cagily with our expectations and creates suspense as to whether these people will be killed. He also refrains from laying out John’s master plan all at once. We don’t know why he’s cutting a hole in a chain-link fence at a seemingly random point or stopping during the climactic chase to strike up a conversation with an elderly stranger. Only later do their parts in his plan become apparent.
However, the script’s flaws outweigh that bit of cleverness. The opening scene in a restaurant is shrill, giving Lara anger-management problems that make her a more plausible murder suspect, but Haggis all too predictably botches the job. The special-effects shot during the climax with Lara dangling out of a spinning car on the freeway is pretty fake. John and Lara’s son is dead weight from a character standpoint — he always does as he’s told and never acts out on his own. The attempts at humor are mostly leaden. John is supposed to be a soft guy who’s uncomfortable handling guns, let alone killing somebody in service of his plan. Crowe doesn’t have the touch to play this type of role anymore and resorts too often to that Gladiator stare of his. The lead needed to be recast.
The key to the escape plot is John’s early conversation with a former escapee (Liam Neeson), who warns him that getting Lara out of prison will be relatively easy compared with fleeing the city afterward before a police dragnet closes in. The climax of the movie focuses on John and Lara eluding a manhunt in the Pittsburgh metro area, and though Haggis the director handles it with a fair amount of skill, Haggis the writer pens too many implausibilities into the chase. This genre piece is easier to take than Haggis’ attempts at examining Big Issues, but The Next Three Days still fails too often at what it tries to do.