“The Next Three Days” engages audience with storyline and acting

Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks star in the suspense thriller “The Next Three Days,” which keeps the audience wondering what will happen next.

“The Next Three Days” engages audience with storyline and acting

Andrew Lycan, Writer

The holidays are upon us and that means it is movie season. In what has become a winter tradition, droves of Americans flock to theaters as Hollywood cranks out a bevy of films created to satisfy appetites for entertainment and escapism. While many are still full of turkey, families will drag them to movies and fill them up with popcorn.

“The Next Three Days” is the latest film from writer/director Paul Haggis, starring Russell Crowe as John Brennan, a mild-mannered junior college professor from Pittsburg, who must face serious decisions when his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is thrown in prison for murder.

Haggis is best known for penning two Best Picture winners (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”) and two Bond movies (“Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”).
With “The Next Three Days,” Haggis is back behind the camera directing, and it’s an all around solid effort.

Setting up a jailbreak

When the police drag Lara kicking and screaming out of her house the morning after her boss turns up dead, John’s greatest concern is not if his wife is innocent, but how soon he can break her out of jail.

John sets out to discover all the inside secrets of prison escapes, and quickly enlists the help of former escapee Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson). But don’t get too excited if you’re a big Neeson fan. He’s only in the frame for a few short minutes — but his impact is the catalyst for the whole jailbreak.

The audience watches as John plots every detail of the caper, covering the wall of his house with figures and schematics. He is meticulous; his plan leaves nothing to chance.

Leading a double life

He quickly learns all the ins and outs of the prison system, and focuses on the glaring weaknesses he hopes to exploit. He becomes an adept criminal in the process, and the transformation is shocking. The scenes begin to shift to the seedy underworld of Pittsburg.

John continually rationalizes the lawbreaking as he quotes Don Quixote to his unsuspecting students. When he’s not busy obtaining fake ID’s and practicing car jacks, John lovingly attends to his oblivious son at the park.

Solid acting aids story line

The acting matches the script with understated performances that compliment the nuanced characters. Crowe plays frustrated determination well, as usual. Banks quickly falls from her typically charming self to a surprisingly believable inmateaccused killer. A diverse crowd rounds the cast out with appearances from Brian Dennehy and Olivia Wilde. Every supporting character from cops to drug dealers, stand out in their unique way.

“The Next Three Days” is not an action movie but excels as a suspense thriller. Haggis’ intent is to build tension gradually through the first hour, providing clues along the way for what will take place in the thrilling conclusion.

What’s going to happen?

The best feature of the film by far is genuinely wondering how the story will end. Early on, John learns that the biggest problem with breaking out of prison is not the “getting out” part, but the “getting away.”

The final scenes contain so many twists and red herrings, it will keep you guessing until the final shot. “The Next Three Days” could at times be an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s well worth the ride.

Film a success despite mixed reviews

Since its release, this movie has seen poor box office and middling reviews. It’s a shame, because the film really is worth watching.

Perhaps it is suffering from an unfortunate release amidst a sea of holiday blockbusters. See it while you can, if you get the chance — especially if you’re a Crowe or Haggis fan. It’s not their best work, but it still rates with their respective filmographies.

In a season of big budget animated flicks “The Next Three Days” is a welcome refuge for those seeking serious, well-crafted drama.

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