Published Nov 18, 2010Certain actors have enough gravitas to give credibility to even the least credible roles. Consider Liam Neeson as the bodyguard-cum-gadget-laden-assassin in Taken. In The Next Three Days, Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, a middle-aged college professor who spends three months hatching an escape plot to free jailed wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), locked up for a murder she didn't commit.
When the film turns into a long prison break/chase during its last third, John is able to react with a diamond cutter's precision to every obstacle thrown in his way — few trained military men, let alone middle-aged college professors, would be able to accomplish the feats on display. And yet there's something about Crowe's screen presence — sturdy, no-nonsense, intense and physically imposing — that just about makes it work.
Director/co-writer Paul Haggis makes The Next Three Days as much a procedural about how-to-break-your-wife-out-of-prison as a conventional thriller, and the many scenes of John doing research give the film a bit of credibility and fascination. (Liam Neeson turns up in an amusingly over-the-top cameo as a prison break expert).
But Crowe is a smart actor, and what sells the film is how he invests his character with a sense of obsession that borders on insanity. When John tells Lara that he believes in her innocence no matter what she says, Crowe makes the sentiment sound less like a profession of love than a security blanket that John clings onto irrationally.
The Next Three Days is a serviceable thriller, and I would even go so far as to say that this is the best directorial effort yet from Haggis, whose previous films were heavy-handed Iraq War drama In the Valley of Elah and the cartoonishly overwrought Crash.
Haggis is not one for subtlety: he uses music to telegraph every emotion and, more frustratingly, he raises suspicions about Lara's innocence then quickly drops them, as if he thought the audience couldn't handle any moral ambiguity. But his button-pushing style is better suited to the thriller genre than the deep-thinking prestige pic.
Haggis is the kind of guy who's happy to do the thinking for you, and if action movies are indeed intended to be watched "with your brain shut off," as is so often alleged, surely Haggis is the genre's ideal director. (Maple)