The Next Three Days
Directed by Paul Haggis
Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde
In “The Next Three Days,” as he did with “Crash,” director Paul Haggis simulates complexity by employing cheap twists and thrills. Russell Crowe, in his typical focused-hero mode, stars as John Brennan, a devoted husband who bends over backward to spring his hot-tempered wife (Elizabeth Banks) from prison. She’s serving a life sentence for murdering her boss — the accuracy of this verdict is revealed in an eye-rolling final sequence.
A fat middle portion of the movie is straight procedural: Crowe interrogating an ex-con (Liam Neeson) to glean some jailbreak tips, Crowe staking out the prison to detect weak links, Crowe trolling dangerous neighborhoods for fake-passport vendors (his plan is to get his family out of the country). Throughout it all, he dutifully visits his shackled wife, who’s becoming increasingly cynical with each visit. “More grit! More grit!” you can practically hear Haggis urging from the director’s seat. (Even at her grittiest, though, Banks can’t shed the smiley glow that makes her such a popular comedy actress.)
Watching Brennan labor over the logistics of a jailbreak is an experience that ranges from engrossing to surprisingly tedious. It’s really only when jailbreak day arrives that you start to feel thrilled by this supposed thriller. The situation is effectively hairy as Brennan dodges cops all over Pittsburgh, making you wish Haggis had kicked the film into high gear a lot earlier. Too often, though, “The Next Three Days” feels like a wannabe thinking man’s movie shoehorned into a potboiler framework. And that’s not a good thing.