February 4, 2013 by CINEfaction Movie Review.
Director Paul Haggis has carved out a cosy little niche for himself crafting sublime hyper real melodramas for the discerning film fan. Here he spins a yarn so outlandish that its run time should be filled with superfluous explosions and dim witted one liners; needless to say it isn’t. Russell Crowe again plays the reliable every-man and when his beloved wife is accused of murder his resolve is tested as he sets out to first prove her innocence and then to break her out of prison.
The films tone is decidedly muted despite the obvious brashness of the plotting, a fact that gives the film most of its weight. We watch Crowe as he struggles internally with his predicament instead of running or shooting through it. As trite as it sounds, The Next Three Days is an old school thriller. Crowe’s performance reminded me of Glenn Fords commanding Det. Sgt. Dave Bannion from the magical 1953 film The Big Heat. Here he has Bannion’s quiet and restrained violence, there are a few moments when Crowe threatens to lose his cool and blow the whole darn plot wide open but he doesn’t, he knows what’s best.
The ambiguity of his wife’s guilt is treated with intelligence as Haggis is well aware that there is much more fun to be had from watching Crowe rescue a woman that may actually be guilty than to retread familiar ropes. Also, this adds to the connection we feel to Crowe as he never questions his wife’s innocence or guilt, this not because Crowe believes her to be angelic but simply because he loves her and it makes complete sense to fight for that, rightly or wrongly. In one of the films stronger moments we watch as Russell Crowe’s John Brennan toys with his students and the audience as he bleeds ”Could it be about how rational thought destroys your soul? Could it be about the triumph of irrationality and the power that is in that?” Here Brennan lays his anima for all to see and plants parallels between the film and the topic of the classroom discussion, Don Quixote.
One of the films shortcomings is one that has been a defining feature of Hollywood since its inception. It’s the idea of star power with specific regards to recent fads in Hollywood ‘leading’ women. Here the presently popular Elizabeth Banks plays the pivotal role of Crowes accused wife. Just to be clear, I don’t think that Banks will ever have the acting chops to be able to pull off the nuanced performance required here. Don’t get me wrong I think she is fine, but you get the feeling it’s never quite as subtle and engaging as it could be. Here Banks plays it safe, when the screenplay calls for her to be sweet and endearing then she is just that and visa versa when she needs to be the villain of the piece. What is needed is an emotional thread tying the various moods and modes to a single character or idea. A superb example of this is Charlize Theron’s performance in ‘Young Adult’ whilst it is not entirely successful film; you really get a sense that you’re watching an actual person on screen rather than a cinematic by-product, her character could just pop off the screen and walk around quite (un)happily. Banks just goes right for the cinematic version of her character, the one that she grew up watching and admiring. Obviously then with a string of recognisable roles behind her; Banks seems to have been chosen more for bums on seats rather than her acting ability. I have exactly the same feelings when watching Cameron Diaz prance around in the much maligned ‘Gangs Of New York’ it feels more like a producers choice rather than a truthful, artistic one.
The Next Three Days is a rare breed, a film that manages to be both thoughtful and exciting, to be seemingly both high and low art simultaneously. It is a praise usually saved for Christopher Nolan and his particular brand of blockbuster but I wont waste my time comparing the various merits of both directors. However, I will say that it continues to be refreshing to see someone who is intent on making something which is equal parts emotionally/anthropologically engaging as it is cinematic and thrilling.