Russell Crowe built his fame and fortune on being a bad ass. You have renegade cop Bud White (L.A Confidential), championship boxer Jim Braddock (Cinderella Man), Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey (Master And Commander) and of course his Oscar winning turn as roman general turned vengeful slave Maximus in Gladiator. Those are just four notable examples. In fact the New Zealand born, Australian raised actor is part of a long proud tradition of action/adventure stars from down under. A club that stretches from Errol Flynn to the latest model Sam Worthington. Yes Crowe has tried his hand at more contemplative roles. With some success. The Insider and A Beautiful Mind spring to mind. But for every piece of Oscar bait you can bet a gunfight or chase scene isn’t far behind.
Here’s the scenario: John Brennan (Crowe) is your run of the mill happy family man. He has a decent job at a community college, a comfortable home, a young son and a lovely wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), whom he adores. Sure he and his father (Brian Dennehy) don’t talk that much and his wife has a barely restrained hatred for both her boss and chesty sister-in-law, but all in all he has a great life. Then one normal morning the Pittsburgh police kick in his front door and tear his life to pieces. His wife is accused of and later convicted of murdering her boss. An act she swears she didn’t commit. With all their appeals rejected and their son Luke ignoring the mother he barely knows, Lara attempts suicide. Watching his whole life slip through his fingers, a nearly bankrupt and desperate John does the only rational thing. He sets reason aside. On the advice of shady ex-con and multiple escapee Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), John decides to concoct an elaborate scheme to break his wife out of jail. Just one problem, John isn’t some super spy or hardened military vet. He’s just a slightly paunchy English teacher who has his wits and no options left. In his way are a maximum security prison, post-9/11 planning and just about every law enforcement agency which happens to have an office in Pennsylvania.
The Next Three Days is a loose adaptation of a French film Pour Elle directed by Fred Cavaye. This time around it is written and directed by Canadian Paul Haggis, most famous for his film Crash, which bewilderingly won the best picture Oscar in 2006. Mercifully Haggis delivers in both departments. Admittedly the script has several noticeable flaws. The character development is minimal for everyone but the protagonist. There is an unnecessary potential love interest (Olivia Wilde) which you know wont amount to anything. Most grievous of all, Haggis unabashedly lifts the St. Patrick’s Day parade scene from The Fugitive. But credit where credit is due, the screenplay is well paced and all the right beats are there. Most important of all the complex multilayered plot John devises remains consistently clever. Likewise the directing isn’t anything truly innovative or spectacular but the movie is very well shot and cast. There are several moments that made me nod my head in critical satisfaction. Better still it remains fairly realistic (there was one scene near the end which I found stretched credulity, but it is brief), which is vital if we are to believe that John is an ordinary man driven to do an extraordinary thing. Best of all Crowe lifts what should be a mediocre movie a little higher due to his performance. He plays Brennan with enough subtly that he comes across as terribly sympathetic character and not a one dimensional action hero. Whether you like him or not Crowe has acting chops. Which is good since he has to do most of the heavy lifting. Though the rest of the cast is strong as well. Banks, Neeson, Dennehy and Wilde make the most of their considerably smaller parts. I was particularly pleased to see Liam Neeson who was coincidentally the star of another movie about a father going to the extreme to save his family: Taken.
Final Verdict: The Next Three Days is a tight, exciting and enjoyable action movie with a surprisingly vulnerable hero and an interesting premise.