Russell Crowe’s star power seems to be dwindling. Two of his last three films (State of Play, Body of Lies) failed to do much more than fizzle at the box office. While they both went on to surpass their budgets in worldwide ticket sales, their domestic intakes were less than impressive. With that in mind, teaming up with Paul Haggis, director of the 2004 Best Picture winner, Crash, almost seems like a no brainer, but a messy script, uneven pace and a general lack of believability will most likely make The Next Three Days just another blip on Crowe’s devolving career.
Based on the 2007 French film, Pour Elle, the story follows John Brennan (Crowe), a normal family man and college professor who is forced to go to extreme measures to keep his family together. His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), has just been arrested and charged with murdering her boss. Throughout the next few years, she appeals her case and loses every time. The only option left is the Supreme Court, who hasn’t heard a murder case in a very long time and isn’t likely to now. So John, certain that she is innocent, decides he’s going to break her out and bring her home to her child, Luke (Ty Simpkins).
The Next Three Days has a problem that is morally unsound. John knows in his heart that his wife is innocent. He loves her tremendously and refuses to acknowledge the possibility that she could have actually murdered somebody in cold blood. At one point, she even tells him that she did it, to which he simply replies, “I don’t believe you.” We’re supposed to go along with that, but it’s not easy to. Until the final scene, which comes off like a roundabout and more than a little late way of telling us how we were supposed to feel, there is no indication that Lara is innocent. In fact, every sign points to her guilt. She had just had a giant argument with her boss, her fingerprints were found all over the murder weapon, the victim’s blood was found on her jacket and a witness saw her fleeing the scene of the crime. But that’s all supposed to be irrelevant because John loves her. I wasn’t buying it, so the whole movie became useless to me. I didn’t want John to break her out. As far as I could tell, she was guilty and deserved to rot in prison.
The events that unfold in The Next Three Days are about as likely as Ann Coulter taking a liberal stance on anything, which is to say it could happen, but you’d be shocked if it did. John is an English professor (at a community college no less) who hasn’t done a harmful thing in his life. He wouldn’t even know where to begin if he wanted to steal a bag of chips from a 7-Eleven, but he somehow concocts a master plan that spans a giant radius of Philadelphia (complete with a pleasure ride on the metro) where he outmaneuvers the entire police force by accurately predicting their every move. He even plants evidence to send them on a wild goose chase. It gets to the point where you become exhausted. You can only take so many leaps of faith before your legs get tired.
It completely goes off the rails when John buys a gun and starts shooting people up for money (but not before setting a house with a meth lab in the basement on fire). Had I actually cared about what was going on up to this point, I would have found this scene questionable, but I didn’t. The Next Three Days has cinematic ADD, transitioning from the prison break to a shootout to playground shenanigans to romantic entanglements. The pace hits only highs and lows. It’s either moving at a crawl or zooming by.
Sadly, there is a good movie hidden somewhere in here. The Next Three Days is well acted and directed, but it’s only moderately engaging. It’s the type of movie where you’ll find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat in one scene and slumping over it the next. Had the script been tightened up and the proceedings made at least somewhat realistic, this probably would have been a good piece of entertainment, but instead it will sit in your mind for the span of its title and then disappear forever.