Friday, November 26, 2010

Utterly Without The Thrill, The Next Three Days Is A Blase Thriller.

The Good: Pacing at the outset, Moments of performance.
The Bad: Utterly uninteresting characters, Pacing lags in the middle and beyond, Plot is stale.
The Basics: Having gone into The Next Three Days blind, I emerge completely unimpressed with Russell Crowe's latest "thriller."

The best thing I could come up with to day about how I spent my Thanksgiving afternoon at the movies was "Of course I have family, that's why I went to the movies!" I have a real issue with artifice and so holidays that force family together when that is not necessarily their organic state make me queasy. I mention this at the outset of my review for The Next Three Days because the thriller is full of artifice and is almost entirely contrived. I had the benefit of going to the movie without having seen any previews, without having read any reviews, nothing. All I knew was that it was a Russell Crowe film and I had no idea about anything else about it. For those in the same boat as I was a few hours ago: The Next Three Days is a prison break story.

It's also almost-typical Russell Crowe fair. I say "almost-typical" because this is actually one of Crowe's more emotive roles, but what ultimately sinks the film is the complete inability for the audience to empathize with the protagonist played by Crowe. Ultimately, The Next Three Days was a good idea with a minimal emotional resonance for the viewer and because it is so focused on Crowe's character, John, the film plods along and withers for almost two hours. And I write this as one who absolutely loved Paul Haggis' film Crash.

The morning after a night out together, John and Lara Brennan are shocked when the police break in and arrest Lara. Almost three years later, Lara is stuck in prison and John is raising their son, Luke, on his own while trying exceptionally hard to arrange appeals for Lara's case. Three months before his resolve wears out entirely, John meets with Damon Pennington, a former prison inmate and escape artist. He informs John of the basic requirements one needs to actually break out of a jail.

From that point on, John begins planning to break Lara out of Alleghany County Prison near Pittsburgh. Over the weeks leading up to his attempt, he attempts to make a master key for within the jail, keep his son safe and get the documents and money needed to make their escape afterward. As John juggles Luke and the plans, he finds himself in serious danger. As the police put together clues left about the case against Lara, John makes the attempt to break Lara out of prison and get her to safety so they can have their family together again.

The death knell of exactly this type of film is a failure for the audience to empathize with the protagonist and that is exactly what happens with The Next Three Days. There are a few moments when Russell Crowe's John is portrayed poorly, but beyond that there is simply nothing distinctive about John and Lara that make the viewer root for them. Lara might not be guilty of the murder she is accused of, but miscarriages of justice happen all of the time. Lara is convicted based upon circumstantial evidence and that leaves Lara in prison and distraught. Sadly, that happens and it is a shame. It's also the subject of many, many legal dramas. The Next Three Days uses it for the pretense for a breakout film and that is vastly less satisfying.

Given that only one anemic scene with Daniel Stern as Lara's lawyer, Meyer, defines the entire legal obstacle to Lara's freedom, The Next Three Days is built upon a pretty flimsy foundation. What follows is more boring than compelling. As a result, there is some intrigue with a scene that involves John trying to beef up his meager $1497 escape fund. John's solution? Take it off some drug dealers. The idea is a neat one and it is well-executed. Sadly for Haggis and his team, it comes in the film far after the viewer stops caring about John or Lara.

The Next Three Days is hampered as well by some of its own casting. Brian Dennehy appears throughout most of the film without any lines and because the film is populated by an actor of such a caliber, the viewer is stuck waiting for his character to develop. But Dennehy's inevitable lines are almost as sparse as his scenes prior. Dennehy appears without speaking and that characterizes his role as John's estranged father quite well. But as we wait for him to speak, we hope that he will have something more than cliches to impart when he does. Sadly, that is not what we are graced with.

Elizabeth Banks is fine as Lara, but she is not given much to work with, outside letting her hair make a transition from blonde to brunette. Her superlative moment of acting comes near the climax of the film when she must wordlessly indicate to John that continuing on without their son is not an option. Banks says a lot with her body language and that scene works, but beyond that her character's arc is pretty much the stages of grief without any flair. Banks plays Lara's anger and numbness well, but that does not make her character any more interesting.

Similarly, Russell Crowe is limited both by his role and his acting abilities. The failure for Crowe's John to emote at all when Lara confesses to him (angry or not) is an unforgivable offense against the viewer. Crowe is able to portray quiet intelligence and cunning, but the emotional aspect of his character is sublimated and John never seems real enough with his passion to make the viewer believe his love is special enough that he would go to the lengths he prepares to go to.

As a result, The Next Three Days is too often a technical film about making a bump key, stealing money, getting a gun and avoiding potential romantic entanglements. And it's just boring. I love getting into a movie when I go into it without any expectations or knowledge, but The Next Three Days left me feeling bored and like I wasted my time.

For other movies with Russell Crowe, please check out my reviews of:
A Beautiful Mind
L.A. Confidential


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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