A slow burning thriller that fully ignites in the final act.
The slow burn is one of the more risky ways to craft a thriller nowadays, as not only are audiences looking for quick thrills, but in the end it all comes down to whether or not the film can deliver and allow a release of all the tension that it’s been building from the start. Regardless of whether the climax favours the hero or not, the payoff has to be worthy of the time invested in the setup, and just how well the director paces the story plays a vital part in it all.
The Next Three Days, the latest film by Academy Award winning writer Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby), uses the slow burn technique and with his skilled hand behind both the writing of the script and the camera, it works out incredibly well.
The film tells the story of John Brennan (Russell Crowe) and his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), who live a typical blue-collar life in Pennsylvania. Lara is the bigger bread winner of the family, but it looks like the life they pretty much set out to live, with a nice house, steady jobs and a beautiful son, Luke (Ty Simkins). However, their happy little home is soon broken apart, after a knock at the door one ordinary morning quickly sees a tirade of policemen swarm into the house, pin John against a wall, and call for the arrest of Lara for the murder of her boss. John, thinking the accusations ridiculous tries to get some answers, but none come his way, and his wife is escorted out.
We then flash-forward three years, and John is bringing Luke to the local holding facility where Lara has been since her arrest. We learn a few things, as the trial has already come and gone, and that the evidence was stacked highly against Lara’s innocence. Still not one to believe his wife capable of murder, John continues pushing for an appeal, which is the only thing that’s keeping Lara holding on to any sort of hope of reuniting with her husband, and her son who doesn’t even acknowledge her. When that falls through, Lara attempts to take her own life, and it’s at this point that John realizes that he’s got to do something, and the only logical thing that he can think of is finding a way to break his wife out of prison, and then get his family to safety.
The Next Three Days isn’t filled with car chases and shootouts, as it tends to lean more towards the use of dramatic tension to reveal its story. John Brennan is an ordinary man, and he’s in a situation where he feels there’s only one way out. It’s because of this that the film is able to reach out to its audience and allow them to enter John’s shoes, as he behaves almost exactly as anyone in his position that has no experience in this sort of thing would act. He’s shaken up easily by things, he’s nervous, too trusting of others, and almost too invested to the point of sometimes blinding himself to the reality and the stakes of the situation at hand.
It’s not as though John does a Google search on how to break someone out of a prison and gets to it (although he does use the internet quite often, albeit for quite intriguing things that actually make good use of a device some may feel is the easy way out), as it isn’t until after what looks to be extensive research that he stumbles upon a book written by a man named Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who happened to be a man who escaped from prison several times in the past and wrote about it.
The scene between John and Pennington is a key scene in the film, as this is where John learns the ins and outs, the wrongs and rights, and the exact way of how things have to go down when it comes to breaking his wife out of prison. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s almost unfortunate that Neeson isn’t in the film more. While his role is vital to the film, and his work is top notch as always, Neeson is almost a cameo, so any hopes of seeing a Jedi and gladiator busting into a prison are best left at the door.
Crowe is the driving force and his work as a regular guy who’s pushed to the edge of reason by the pure, unconditional love he feels for his wife shows why he’s one of the best Hollywood has to offer. The growth of his character, from a man who feels all but helpless against the judicial system, to a man who will stop at nothing to see his wife free again, is powerful stuff, and Crowe makes every step along the way feel real, and that only helps add the much needed suspense that this slow burn calls for.
Banks also does fantastic work as the incarcerated Lara, holding on to a small glimmer of hope in an appeal, only to watch it wash away in the tears that she sees on her husband’s face when he comes to tell her the bad news. While the film mainly focuses on John, and his task at hand, the scenes that do involve Banks prove her to be an actress that can handle intense scenes with great emotion, and hopefully she’ll get to delve deeper into these types of roles in the future.
Haggis once again proves why he’s such a bright spot in Hollywood, as his script, which is based off the original French film, Pour Elle, allows everything to simmer before we watch it all boil over in the third, thrilling act. There do happen to be a good handful of lucky breaks, both for John, and for the police, throughout the film, and while they’re there to show just how intense things are getting, you do sometimes find yourself rolling your eyes.
Nevertheless, those points are forgivable enough, as while it may have its faults, The Next Three Days is a film that’s full of tension, suspense, and emotion, that takes hold of you from the start, and will push you to the edge of your seat for the entire final act.
Director: Paul Haggis Notable Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson Writer(s): Paul Haggis
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.