The Next Three Days - movie review
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The Next Three Days is a remake of a french film, Pour Elle (Anything For Her), and to its credit it doesn't suffer like so many remakes do. As with any good thriller, especially one involving prison, the film relies almost solely on the players. We're initially introduced to John Brennan, played by Russell Crowe looking typically haggard as a beleaguered community college teacher. His wife, Lara, played by Elizabeth Banks, is deeply in love with him. They have a son, Luke, who is insular but deeply devoted to his parents. The pieces are now in place to be battered out of recognition.
They have a perfect life, yes, but here's the rub: minutes into the story, the Brennan household is swarming with the police, and she's hauled away for the murder of her boss. Given that the film begins with Lara bemoaning her shitty relationship with said managerial bint, ambiguity is immediately instilled in the narrative. We cut to three years later. John and Luke have settled into a kind of traumatised everyday rhythm, and the couple are at the tail end of an exhausting court appeal. When things don't transpire in an ideal manner, a horrendous, unshakeable drive is ignited within John, and this is where things get interesting. He resolves to break her out of prison.
First off, the performances are fantastic; not ostentatious as they would normally be to make a prison break film pop, and not so subtle that they coast under ones emotional radar. Crowe manages to carve a nuanced, highly believable portrait of a husband and a father; part of the genius of his character, and the script which gives his character direction and life, is the repeated fumbling. Brennan is a teacher, and he approaches these insurmountable obstacles before him as purely academic challenges. He assumes he can learn, apply that learning and proceed cleanly through, and watching him coast along and then hit resistance, and then observe how he reacts under pressure and whilst panicked, is truly exhilarating.
The rest of the characters revolve around his struggle. His wife is played with superb fatigue by Banks; Lara is as far from her tightly wound, whip smart incarnation in 30 Rock. The various officers attempting to foil John's plans (Lennie James as lieutenant Nabulsi and Jason Beghe as detective Quinnan are standouts) are particularly excellent. Even Daniel Stern and Olivia Wilde make vital contributions to what fast becomes a quilt of antagonism and skittering, fizzing bursts of action. Brian Dennehy also makes a relatively brief but heartrending turn as John's father George. They all form an incredible web around John and his plans, and when he eventually lumbers into action, everything else begins inexorably to draw inwards.
It's being pegged as a thriller, but really it's more of an inverted Papillon, every player functioning as an entirely untested cog in a potentially lethal machine. It's also a sumptuous study of grief, ineptitude and desperation, and whilst it might run a little long, it's a decidedly brutal and startlingly human film.
It's a slow burn, but it's totally worth it.
The Next Three Days opens in cinemas on Thursday, February 3.
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