Don’t be fooled by the tagline for Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days: “What if you had 72 hours to save everything you live for?” Three Days of the Condor, this is not. It takes a long time to plan a prison break. It also takes a long time to watch Russell Crowe plan a prison break.
The Next Three Days clocks in at a full two hours, and by the second half I had to stop keeping track of the moral ambiguities and gaping plot holes—I just wanted him to get on with the damn heist, even if I wasn’t convinced it was a good idea in the first place.
Crowe plays John Brennan, an adoring husband whose wife is convicted of murder and sent to prison for life. The movie hits the ground running, starting with the night of the alleged crime, then criss-crossing quickly through time until her final appeal is rejected, her son has aged three years, and the husband is distraught at having to live the rest of his life without a conjugal visit. This becomes cause for an elaborate jailbreak.
I could never fully suspend all my disbelief that this middle-class college professor was really pushed to the brink. Jodie Foster had a similar path in 2007’s The Brave One, but her character, a witness to her boyfriend’s murder, was motivated by revenge and trauma.
Last year’s action hit Taken had a similar story—one single man (Liam Neeson) going through great heroic lengths outside the law to save his teenage daughter from sexual slavery—but that main character was, of course, a retired black-ops CIA agent.
In Three Days, there’s no clear understanding of what inspires Brennan to pick up the skills of Danny Ocean and take such a dangerous quest, risking his own life as well as his wife’s—and ultimately his child’s future. There’s no insight into the man himself.
We’re obliged to cheer for John Brennan, but it’s not fair to ask us to side with him if we don’t understand why he’s willing to go so far. Touching scenes—John stares teary-eyed at his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), through the visitor’s glass—fail to explain the hero’s sudden and bizarre streak of robbery and murder. The film does capture moments of unexpected intimacy between people—hearing a man’s last gasps of air before dying en route to a hospital, the silent, surreal aftermath of a near-miss car collision—but it doesn’t pay as close attention to the consequences of these events.
Most of the movie finds Lara Brennan operating in a state of despair or rage. She makes two suicide attempts in the film, one off-screen and one on, and both are treated flippantly—mere plot advancement to set up a dramatic stunt near the end. Three Days stretches thin the suspense of Lara’s guilt or innocence. It doesn’t reveal the truth until the predictably, disappointingly neat final scene.
The Next Three Days is intended to leave viewers asking whether they would go through such lengths to save someone they love. But all I’d ask is how Crowe could carry a sack of cash through airport security without rousing suspicion.