Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Academy Award winning writer & director Paul Haggis puts Oscar winner Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks through the ringer as a husband breaking his wife out of jail in the American remake of the 2008 French thriller “Anything for Her.” “The Next 3 Days” (*** out of ****) qualifies as an exciting but implausible suspense saga enhanced by adroitly staged action scenes, top-notch performances from a seasoned cast, and enough red herrings and obstacles to make you want to gnaw your fingernails. Best known for scripting and helming "Crash," Haggis took home an Oscar for writing and directing and the film clinched Best Picture. He received an Oscar for his “Million Dollar Baby” screenplay, and he is credited as one of the creators for the long-running Chuck Norris television series “Walker, Texas Ranger.” Recently, Haggis wrote two of the less James Bond extravaganzas: “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.”

Basically, Haggis knows a thing or two about actioneers, and he makes an incredible jailbreak seem credible in “The Next 3 Days.” Moreover, aside from its hefty two hour plus length, this pulse pounding, distaff version of “The Fugitive“ remains largely faithful to its Gallic source material. The City of Pittsburgh plays an important part in the plot and “The Next 3 Days” serves as a first-class travelogue for the town. Unlike many movies that shoot city landmarks to authenticate their yarns and then shoot urban scenes in Canada, Pittsburgh has no stand-ins. Pittsburgh natives will probably be the only ones to groan about some of the logistical contradictions of the town. Anybody who has seen the “Mythbusters” television show will know that utilizing air pressure by means to a tennis ball to unlock a door won’t work. However, there are many sites about bump keys on YouTube like the one featured here that our protagonist watches for information. As gripping as PG-13 rated “The Next 3 Days” is, Haggis never lets the violence, drug material, profane language, and sexuality become gratuitously gritty.

“The Next 3 Days” opens in a restaurant as John Brennan (Russell Crowe of “Robin Hood”) and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks of “Role Models”) are dining with John’s brother Mick (Michael Buie of “Mystery, Alaska”) and Mick’s wife Erit (Moran Atias of “Land of the Lost”). Workplace politics precipitates an argument, and Erit insists a woman can serve under a man better than a man can serve under a woman. Lara suspects Erit is trying to seduce John, and the two ladies clash. Later, the next morning, Lara and John are enjoying breakfast with their young son Luke. Lara snaps a photo of them. No sooner has this scene of domestic happiness transpired than the Pittsburgh Police Department converge on John’ house. They arrest Lara for the murder of her boss. Lara’s boss was a woman and Haggis inserts a flashback of Lara and her superior arguing. Eventually, Lara storms down to the parking lot and collides with an unknown woman. We see Lara pick up a fire extinguisher. A bystander entering the high rise parking lot spots Lara leaving and notices a woman sprawled on the concrete by her car. Since Lara got into an argument with her boss, the Pittsburgh Police arrest her. They find Lara’s trench coat that she was in the process of washing out a blood stain. The blood stain matches the DNA of her murdered boss. Based on this evidence, the jury finds Lara guilty.

John refuses to believe that Lara could coldly kill her boss and then sit through a diner date without betraying herself. Over the course of the next three years, the predicament John and Lara face grows steadily worse. John’s attorney, Meyer Fisk (Daniel Stern of “Home Alone”), tries to get John to examine the evidence from an objective perspective so he can understand why their appeal failed. Things come to a boil quickly as Lara tries to commit suicide. She doesn’t want to endure a twenty year stretch for murder.

John decides to take matters into his own hands. He contacts an ex-con, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson of “The A-Team”), who has penned a book about his prison exploits, specifically his many escapes. Damon warns John to be prepared because the police will catch him by blocking off the bridges around Pittsburgh and shoot him on sight. John devises an elaborate escape plan which requires him to enter the criminal underworld. Primarily, John needs forged passports authentic enough to fool the authorities so he can relocate his family to South America. John learns quickly that trying to break Lara out of prison is no picnic. He is nearly caught at one point in the prison using a bump key. Nevertheless, John explores all the possibilities with a scrapbook map plastered onto one wall of his house. This scene and setting recall the ABC-TV series “Prison Break” where the hero sought to break his brother out of prison. John discovers that breaking Lara out of jail isn’t so easy so he tampers with Lara’s diabetes medical folder. Initially, Lara refuses to accompany him when John gets the drop of the cops escorting her.

The last half hour of “The Next 3 Days” moves like a rollercoaster with many surprises to heighten the suspense. A paunchy Crowe looks believable as John Brennan; Brennan teaches English literature at a community college teacher. He is the last person who would embark on such a desperate mission. John doesn’t discuss his ideas with his father and mother. Elizabeth Banks is good as his imprisoned wife. Somewhere along the way, Lara confides in John that she did kill her boss. John doesn’t let this revelation alter his plans. Haggis keeps the action careening along at top speed, and Crowe makes the hero a sympathetic fellow. Crowe’s character shift from a peaceful community college to a gun-toting thug is impressive.

“The Next 3 Days” ranks as an exciting melodrama with surprises galore.