Monday, March 14, 2011

The Next Three Days - Home Video Review

Theatrical Release Date: November 19, 2010

I am gonna be as up front as possible here so that there are no misunderstandings. I "used" to be a big fan of Russell Crowe and I have only recently discovered my dislike of just about everything writer/director Paul Haggis has been involved with. So why did I decide to watch their new collaborative effort then? Because I believe in giving people a fair chance for making up for mistakes in their past. I believe in atonement, the idea that someone can once again or maybe for the first time make something worthwhile. The Next Three Days was proof positive that I am one of the biggest idiots out there for believing in those ideals.

Review Vital Stats:
Service: Xbox Zune Marketplace
Download Type: Rental
Picture Quality: HD

Loves: Wrongfully incarcerated jailbreak films
Likes: Elizabeth Banks
Neutral: Russell Crowe, director Paul Haggis
Hates: Knowing how a movie is going to end because of the dam trailer
Should've: Released the trailer as a short film instead of the full film

Director Paul Haggis got a lot of acclaim for his feature film directorial debut and best picture winner Crash. With that clout he has since gone on to direct a few other films here and there while sticking to the writing side of things mostly. While it is true he was responsible for the screenplay for one of the best James Bond films of all time with Casino Royale, that remains his single achievement in the world of film thus far. Then you have the self-absorbed and increasingly dull Russell Crowe whom has made it a point to never play in a good film ever again. To say his best work came at the beginning of his career would be pretty spot on as he has done nothing of any consequence since Gladiator, which isn't even his best film, that accolade goes to L.A. Confidential. Then we have both Haggis and Crowe teaming up for what appears to be a fairly straight forward jailbreak movie which is a genre I myself am quite fond of. But wouldn't you know it, they couldn't even get a simple concept as that right and end up making all the wrong choices from casting to execution that turned this possibly fun idea into a laborious bore.

John and Lara Brennan (Russell Crowe & Elizabeth Banks) with their young son Luke are your normal everyday family. Lara clearly has some anger control issues as we see her argue with her brother in-law's girlfriend about whether or not she is flirting with her husband during dinner. We also learn that she had earlier that day gotten into quite a verbal fight with her boss where they both left angry. The next morning as the Brennan's prepare to go about their day there is a knock at the door and upon answering it a mob of police officers rush into the house and arrest Lara for the murder of her boss.

What a happy family...

Fast forward a couple years and we find that Lara lost her court battle and is currently being held in the Philadelphia county jail while awaiting the news on her most current appeal attempt. The last two years have been tough on John and their son Luke as they try to go on with their lives and visit Lara as often as they can with any updates on her case. Their lawyer has some unfortunate news for John and Lara though as their final appeal has been turned down by the courts. After this news hits Lara, saying she can't spend the rest of her life in jail, she attempts to commit suicide. Knowing that his wife cannot survive in prison, John begins to formulate a plan to free her and eventually flee the country with their son in tow.

That all has the great potential to be a top notch thriller. Someone that is (perhaps) wrongfully accused of a murder and is ripped away from their family is a fine setup for some great drama but something went horribly wrong when they decided to make this about the plan more than the people. And what I mean by that is the film gets way too caught up in the details of this jailbreak scenario. I know that films in this genre always have to make it a point to give us at the very least a montage of how everything is being set up. While it does a fan-tabulous job of giving us those details, by the hour mark you just want to move beyond them finally.

Yeah, that happiness didn't last long.

This next part may be considered a spoiler but considering the trailer for the film already gave away the ending I will go ahead with this explanation anyways, if you have not see the trailer then skip this paragraph please.  That plot synopsis I gave encompasses maybe 20 minutes of the films runtime. After that we are full steam ahead with the jailbreak plot. The last 30 minutes of the film is the jailbreak and everything that happens afterwards. That leaves one hour and twenty minutes of preparation time, more than three quarters of the film is dedicated to watching John jump through all the different hoops he has to in order to make sure this all goes off without a hitch. Maybe that would be OK if the dam trailer hadn't already showed me that he was successful in breaking her out (even then that is still kind of long). But the fact that I had to sit there and watch John prepare for something that the filmmakers try and layer with suspense that I already know works was just agonizing to sit through.

That complaint aside there were definitely some neat ideas used here. I really liked the care that was taken with showing us that breaking someone out of jail isn't very easy and can be more dangerous for the breaker than the breakee. After his meeting with a master jailbreak artist, played by Liam Neeson stopping by while on coffee break from another movie most likely, he starts his search for a number of key ingredients needed to make this work. What I liked though is that it is not only very difficult for him to find these things but he often has to sacrifice his morals to achieve his goal. John is most certainly not the same man he was when the time comes for him to break his wife out of jail and I liked that change. It showed there were consequences for the actions he was taking. Like I said though, these positives are over done by the sheer amount of time taken to get us to what we were promised.

I hope you like this wall because you will see it...a lot.

For the life of me I cannot figure out why this film is call The Next Three Days. I am guessing here but I believe that has to be referring to the number of days leading up to her jail break but that makes no sense since he was planning it for over a year. At the opening of the film we start at a undisclosed moment of time where John is racing down a street with an injured person in the back. Then we are told "The Last Three Years" and we are whisked back to just before the arrest. After the arrest we are shuttled two years ahead, which if my math is correct that leaves one year before we catch up to that opening scene. It is in that year that John starts to plan the escape, but before we are caught up to that opening scene we are shown another card that reads "The Last Three Days". By this point I was totally confused and stopped caring what day it was. I just wanted this day to be over already.

What I am getting at here is that even the film is confused by where exactly the focus is supposed to be. I was under the impression that those three days involved the time they were on the run after the jail break (the trailer made it seem like the jail break occurred early on).I just wished it were more concerned with speeding things along. I thought that there was a good movie to be mined from all this, seeing someone set free that shouldn't have been sent to jail in the first place is always great drama but that isn't what the film is concerned with. Sure, we get some moments between John and Lara where they are trying to deal with their situation but it all feels recycled near the end. I have to mention the fact that Crowe and Banks have almost zero chemistry with each other didn't help either. Banks did fine as the jailed mother but Crowe felt as though he was being given downers the whole time. I don't need him to be excited about what he is doing but he just felt so unaffected by what he was doing most of the time.

He looks so fierce...Grrrrr!

The man can grimace and be very stern though which is all that he was willing to give us it seems because he does it all throughout the film. I just don't think that Crowe was the right man for the part, he clearly is much older than Banks and he just didn't have that spark needed to make something like this work. I still believe he is fine actor, but he needs to fine that role that let's him shine again and this ain't it. He just isn't hungry enough as an actor anymore unfortunately. Speaking of actors, I was surprised at some of the background actors gathered here. I already mentioned Neeson and his walk on part but there was also Olivia Wilde as some random woman that John keeps bumping into at the playground, Daniel Stern for a walk on as John's lawyer and Brian Dennehy as John's father (where the hell has he been?). Not that I don't appreciate the filmmakers going out of their way to get some great actors for some pretty run of the mill parts but it was almost distracting at some points.

OK, I have saved the big complaint for last because this one goes deep into spoiler territory. So abandon this portion of the review and skip on down to that last paragraph if what want to keep secret how the last thirty minutes or so of the film plays out. You gone...OK, if not then here we go. So, at a turning point in the film John must get some cash quickly and his new knowledge of the underworld leads him to a meth lab where he promptly shoots and kills one man, leaves another to burn (plus a dog) and leaves a third on a bench after he dies in his car. The strangeness of a family man and teacher doing that aside, in comes what I have dubbed as the PSC or otherwise known as the Philadelphia Super Cops. One lead detective (Lennie James) is on scene at that massacre left by John and using only a piece of a broken tail light is not only able to determine the make, model, and color of the car but they have narrowed the list of over 7,000 owners down to one person that has a wife locked up for murder...guess who?

Oops, did I just give away the fact that she escapes...I am not better than the trailer then.

At that point I was OK with their skillfulness, they are cops after all. But they did that all in one morning which is pretty dam good. Then they go visit that persons home, Johns home, only to find it vacant and after finding a wall with paper shreds on it he quickly determines that he is going to break his wife out of jail. Not bad right? OK, next he is able to assemble half the police force, off a hunch mind you, at the hospital that Lara is being treated at. This is all still in the same day of him being assigned to the case by the way. He also finds paper shreds in the trash which his team puts back together in a matter of minutes to determine their escape route. While his team does that, he is involved in a foot chase tracking down John and Lara. Out of hundreds of people wearing the same outfits he spots them (not seeing their faces) and has everyone on their tail again. Pretty amazing right? Not for the PSC though, they are this good, trust me.

Forget for a moment that John's year-in-the-making jailbreak plan is figured out by a random detective investigating the murder of some drug lords. Forget for a moment that a teacher is the prime suspect in the murder of those drug lords after only a couple hours investigation. And definitely forget that in the real world a prisoner escape would be handled by the U.S. Marshal service instead of local police. The real problem I had with all this is that this all screamed PLOT DEVICE every single moment this chase was on. That detective didn't earn one ounce of credibility with me, even if he had caught them or didn't I was over it all. There had to be some level of reality to the situation and the fact that the filmmakers threw in this police detective in the 11th hour to make things more tense was insulting. That single addition derailed anything that hour of setup was trying to accomplish which is just sad.

I know I haven't been very kind to the film, but after what it tried to pull in that last act to try and increase the stakes I was done trying to make excuses for it. I can't say it is a terrible film, the moments of preparation by John (as long as they are) were fun. I enjoyed the fact that the film never told us if Lara was actually guilty of the crime she was convicted for, although they show their hand in the final moments that almost felt like a slap in the face for some reason. Just be warned, do not go into this expecting to see a film about people on the run. If you know what you are getting into then you might derive some pleasure from it, just stay far away from that trailer. I can't fully endorse it though because I feel like that is just the wrong thing to do so I have to say...



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