The Next Three Days
Haggis/Crowe effort cleverly entertains __ 7/10

The Next Three DaysDirected by Paul Haggis
Written by Paul Haggis

Russell Crowe ... John Brennan
Elizabeth Banks ... Lara Brennan
Michael Buie ... Mick Brennan
Moran Atias ... Erit
Remy Nozik ... Jenna
Tyler Green ... Three Year Old Luke
Jason Beghe ... Detective Quinn
Aisha Hinds ... Detective Collero
Ty Simpkins ... Luke
Liam Neeson ... Damon Pennington

Every actor has a couple of missteps early in his/her career, but the great ones, once established, seldom falter. Crowe is such a talent that even if the movie isn't particularly brilliant or logical—say, Proof of Life—he inhabits his scenes with such authority that it's an enjoyable experience. That's kind of how I feel about The Next Three Days. Unlike Haggis's Oscar-Winning Crash, a brilliant ensemble movie of social discovery, Three Days is a relatively simple escape-and-chase movie with questionable premises and implausible motivation. At least in my humble opinion (IMHO).

But those inconsistencies are superficial, really, because the initial conditions are at least conceivable. So let's just suspend disbelief and go with the flow. John (Russell Crowe) and Laura Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) are happily married with a young son, Luke. They live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where John is a college teacher (of literature as I recall) and Elizabeth is a higher-up poobah in some kind of public-relations company.

From the gitgo, there's a scene where John and Laura are at a posh dining establishment with John's brother Mick and Mick's date—some super feminist hottie basically thrusting her magnificent bazoombahs out there in a sexy red dress and pontificating to the table on how she can seduce any man she wants... even John Brennan. The remainder of the foursome trade banter and make light, but the woman, who is an associate of Laura's, keeps trying to get Laura's goat. Laura ultimately reacts and verbally demolishes the little tramp, plus either tosses a drink or performs some other physical act that leads to the end of the dinner before coffee and dessert arrive.

We later discover this (supposedly characteristic-hotheaded) behavior of Laura's also emerges in her job, particularly toward her boss, another woman at her firm.

That evening, between Laura and John, following some apologies for the seemingly hotheaded behavior, some rigorous makeup sex occurs, which she seems to be the initiator of. Laura is head over heels in lust and love with John, and vice versa. Their conversation vibrates at a higher level of humor and passion, which in lesser actors' hands would seem odd or awkward. Somehow they pursue their hunka hunka burnin' lovemaking without waking the boy. In the morning, breakfast transpires showing the idyllic quality of the young family, everyone preparing for work or school. Laura goes into the bedroom, gives herself a shot in the inside thigh (diabetic?), grabs her coat, notices what appears to be a wholly unexpected bloodstain, takes the coat to the bathroom to scrub on it...

Then all hell breaks loose.

*** Spoiler Alert: Causes the later escape-and-chase. ***

Police in the typical modern SWAT team "hordes-of-thugs"[1] fashion storm in, no warrant, no knock on the door, no presumption of innocence, etc., etc. The thug in charge is a Detective Quinn (Jason Beghe), and I remember his plea to John Brennan—who is naturally protective and scared out of his wits trying to keep these goons away from his wife and child—along the lines of, "If you touch me in any way, I'll have you arrested for assault." You get the point: complete horseshit police-state shock treatment, and somewhere in the midst of all the noisy confusion, with the kid screaming and furnishings upended, we surmise that Laura Brennan is being arrested for something really bad. Well, it turns out to be murder... of that boss-woman at her firm

Right, and the movie flashes back to a scene at the parking lot on the night of the murder. We are given enough glimpses—Laura getting into her car, the boss-woman being struck by an object, another woman brushing by Laura quickly, the boss-woman lying lifeless on the pavement, Laura walking to the dinner date, Laura later driving away—that, okay, we can imagine it's possible she might have committed the crime. Still, the movie rolls a bit further before we discover she's actually been convicted of the murder and appeal has been denied.[2]

*** End Spoiler Alert ***

This is where it gets interesting. John, reaching the end of his rope with his attorney, realizing an appeal to the Supreme Court is pointless, decides to look into springing his honey and fleeing the country. How would he accomplish that? He finds an expert Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson, who by the way is thoroughly convincing in his short role), and starts the plan. Will he succeed?

I won't say much about the movie from this point forward except the preparation for the escape, the escape, and the chase sequences are highly effective... and far more plausible than the earlier setup parts of the movie. Also, John's love for Laura is proved many times over as he encounters obstacles of every kind; most men viewing this film will question whether they themselves would undertake so many risks and so much aggravation for their sweethearts. The "three days" part of the title refers to John's discovery that the authorities are going to be moving Laura within three days to a more remote facility. So not only does he have to execute a foolproof plan, he must hasten his preparations before they are fully ready.

Of course, the average audience member is going to be cheering for John to be successful against the authorities—who are treated more sympathetically than I would have colored them. But in the long run, they're pretty much just unimaginative statist cops with blind obedience to authority driving their feelings and their moves. Most real humans are going to enjoy the several instances where John outsmarts these ubiquitous police-state turd blossoms. Exciting stuff, you get your money's worth.

[1] I've mentioned this before, but in the old days, when we had a lot less real crime, police would knock on the door of a criminal suspect—and if they had a warrant, make that fact known to gain entry—like Joe Friday in Dragnet. It wasn't as if the suspect, if truly guilty, was going to threaten the police, or even, most of the time, make a run for it. Like where's he going to go? Virtually everyone back in those days is respectful of the law and would turn in a real criminal. But that was when you only got the knock on the door for real crimes... not the millions of political or consensual law violations we have today.

You just know our society has reached a moral nadir when hordes-of-legal-thugs attack health food stores with guns drawn and Tasers at the ready. This is the beginning of the end of the police state, now hastened by government excess at TSA, DHS, etc. The people have had it up to here with this Nazi bullshit and will prosecute the guilty ones for petit treason.

[2] Comment on the cinematography: Haggis seems to like "flash collage" approaches to conveying events, particularly when they're violent and involve many people. Very emotional-perceptual and fragmentary, as if to cover or blur the action, and enable different interpretations of what happens. Is it directorial laziness? Not sure, but I dislike the subjectivity effect.

2010 December 01
Copyright © Brian Wright | The Coffee Coaster™
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