Since pulling off one of the greatest Oscars upsets in recent history, writer, director and producer Paul Haggis has kept a relatively low profile. After his race relations drama Crash controversially trumped Ang Lee’s lyrical Brokeback Mountain for best picture in 2006 (taking out editing and original screenplay awards as well), his cinematic output has included the underrated In The Valley Of Elah as a helmer, Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima as a producer, and Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace as a writer. In his latest film he takes on all three roles, remaking Fred Cavayé’s French crime thriller Anything For Her (Pour elle) in the form of The Next Three Days. Substituting the original’s pairing of Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger for Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, the feature explores the limits that love places on our actions, and the lengths one man is willing to go to in the name of passion.
Commencing three years prior to the events that give the film its title, The Next Three Days opens with a dinner conversation between John Brennan (Crowe, Robin Hood), his wife Lara (Banks, Role Models), brother Mick (Michael Buie, Mystery, Alaska) and girlfriend Erit (Moran Atias, the short-lived television spin-off of Crash). When the discussion touches upon Lara’s work issues, her feisty nature rears its head as the ladies clash over coping techniques. The next morning, as the couple ready their son Luke (played by debutants Toby and Tyler Green at the age of three, and Revolutionary Road‘s Ty Simpkins at the age of six) for the day ahead, the police arrive to arrest Lara for the murder of her boss. As three years pass, John is convinced of her innocence, fighting to clear her name against the odds. After exhausting all legal avenues available, he spends three months planning to break her out of prison, culminating in an action-packed final three days.
Breaking out of prison seems to be the thing to do these days, with the desire for humans to be free trumping whatever force has placed them behind bars in the first place. In addition to the recent television hit Prison Break, The Next Three Days will soon be joined by Peter Weir’s The Way Back, in which inmates break out of a Siberan gulag in the 1940s, and the more legally liberating Conviction. So in order for this remake to be engaging to audience, it has to provide something more of a ‘wow’ factor to distinguish itself for audiences. Haggis seems to be on more stable ground when he is writing original work, as his adaptations (most notably In the Valley of Elah) have lacked the edge of his solo creations (the Bond-reboot Casino Royale notwithstanding). Yet this reworking of a French film fails to give us the punch he is capable of, drawing out the first two acts to the point of tedium. Crowe and Banks are undoubtedly excellent in their respective roles, with Crowe in particular earning his chameleon-like reputation by disappearing completely into his obsessive character. Yet while the ultimate success of the escape attempt may be in the planning, the same can not be said of a gripping film.
Some solid performances from the leads marginally offset the criminally underused supporting cast. Brian Dennehy has no more than twenty words or so of dialogue in the entire film (a drinking game is sure to follow), and Liam Neeson as the career escapist simply deserved more screen time in a role that anyone else could have played for all of the importance the character ultimately has to the plot. Two police detectives (Aisha Hinds and Jason Beghe) introduced late into the film are tacked-on, and appears to be a last-ditch attempt at introducing a questioning voice to the piece. Given the already bloated length of the first two acts, they merely add a superfluous story element. Any moral ambiguity around escaping from prison, or any doubts that these characters might have been able to provide around Lara’s guilt or innocence, is politely eschewed and neatly wrapped up by the time the credits roll.
The Next Three Days was released on February 3, 2011 in Australia by Roadshow Entertainment.