“Someone’s belief in virtue is more important than virtue itself”
Director Paul Haggis is somewhat of an enigma with me. I like the guy, I’m not sure why, I just do. I was one of the ten fans who enjoyed “The Black Donnellys” and the first time I saw his Oscar-winning Crash at the theatres, I thought it was a masterpiece. He soon wrote two fantastic films in Million Dollar Baby and Casino Royale, but that success began to wane once time passed and I realized just how pandering and manipulative his sophomore success was—yes, his debut was a 1993 work called Red Hot. With every passing thought to Crash, I began to like it less and less. It’s still a great film, and I don’t blame the Academy for giving its biggest prize, but a sour taste was left in my mouth. He followed it up with a film I haven’t seen due to the massive amounts of anti-war rhetoric I’ve been told In the Valley of Elah holds, and I began to see this auteur in a tainted light of overstepping art into the realm of misguided, unwelcome preaching.
So, when 2010’s The Next Three Days came along—surprisingly a remake of French Pour elle—I wasn’t sure what to expect. The trailers billed it as an adventure thriller, action packed with its star Russell Crowe breaking his wife out of prison and going on the run. He enlists the help of Liam Neeson’s Damon Pennington, a man who broke out of jail seven times, and becomes a person willing to kill a guard or abandon his son at a gas station in order to get away. The advertisement shows so much that you have to believe the escape occurs early and we will be treated with a journey on the lam towards freedom, capture, or death. I truly believed this, forgetting the fact Haggis was at its center. But the guy knows character studies, he knows drama, and he knows internal suffering. He’s a critical darling with massive clout; there is no need for him to slum it with a Hollywood churned action flick. The real truth, then, ends up being that what we get isn’t necessarily what we saw on posters and tv. This film is so much more than that and, dare I say, his best work yet.
This is a tale in its totality from incarceration to escape attempt. The title of the movie doesn’t even flash across the screen at the start, instead replaced by the text ‘The Last Three Years”. We meet the Brennans, Crowe’s John and Elizabeth Banks’s Lara, as they share dinner with his brother and sister-in-law. A fun, frisky quarrel breaks out between Lara and Erit (Moran Atias), a spat brought forth from a fight the former had with her boss shortly before the meal. Erit believes women can’t work for women because of an intrinsic competitive spirit between females—an idea perfectly exemplified by a pissing match on whether John would have an affair with her or not. They’re family, though, these things break out and die down without a second thought. So, the evening ends amorously with the Brennans as they arrive home to relieve the babysitter and prepare for the next day at work. Lara is fearful her shouting match may have gotten her fired, but she’s ready to face the music either way. That is, until the police arrive with a warrant and she’s taken away in handcuffs.
Fast-forward two plus years and we see how the judicial system failed this family. Appeals have gone to the Supreme Court and they just don’t take on murder cases. The sad truth of the matter is that Lara will be spending the rest of her life behind bars. This reality is a direct cause in her suicide attempt and John’s discovery of how far he’s willing to go to save her. We’re next treated with captions of “The Last Three Months”, displaying his careful planning and preparation with maps, photos, and information, and “The Last Three Days”, the duration of time before Lara is moved to another prison. It’s a time crunch and John has nowhere to turn as he does what’s necessary to procure info, assemble funds for fake papers, and survive long enough to even chance the escape. The movie may go on for over two hours, but thankfully only the final thirty minutes concern the aftermath of his transgressions. The Next Three Days, instead of a generic action flick on the run, is a tautly suspenseful trek towards freedom, with all the horrors—physically, emotionally, and psychologically—that come with it.
Everything is carefully planned out and we are exposed to each step. Disregard the trailer. Neeson is in the movie for a total of three minutes and more abbreviated familiar faces litter the scenery. Brian Dennehy is a nuanced, integral part of the puzzle as John’s complicated father; Daniel Stern comes in briefly as the couple’s lawyer; RZA and Kevin Corrigan play criminals as they are wont to do; and even Haggis’s “Donnellys” castmembers Jonathan Tucker and Olivia Wilde come in with stronger roles than their throw-away characters usual deserve. It’s all about John, though, and what he finds himself capable of doing. Their inclusion makes everything happening to him more real and the stakes remain high throughout, never letting off the gas as it builds towards the evitable breakout and the high-pressured minutes afterwards. Lennie James comes in as the Lieutenant on the case to shut John down and even though they come face to face only once, the conflict is there and they are definitely playing cat and mouse. Which is the hunter and which is the prey becomes the question.
Throw out your preconceptions about Haggis and sit down to enjoy some suspense and thrills from a fast paced film and very good acting. Banks is wonderful as a mother reconciling the fact she may never hold her son again, warding off tears as she forces a strong demeanor to push her husband away so he can forget her and move on. But as good as she is, Crowe masterfully weaves his way through a litany of emotions as he does his best to be a teacher, a father, a husband, a criminal, and a savior. He never questions her innocence; never even has to ask her if she did it. The Next Three Days shows the lengths in which a man will go to save the love of his life, the moral compass he will shift to make his endgame workable within it. Like Don Quixote, John finds the power of irrationality and its triumph over fact. We can’t control when bad things happen or whether evidence will point irrefutably to a lie. When the time comes, it is up to us to believe, to go against that which rationality makes us adhere. Sometimes we must create a reality to have a say in what happens and let it envelope us in order to survive.
 Elizabeth Banks (“Lara Brennan,” left) and Russell Crowe (“John Brennan,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s The Next Three Days. Photo credit: Phil Caruso
 Liam Neeson (“Damon,” left) and Russell Crowe (“John Brennan,” right) star in Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s The Next Three Days. Photo credit: Phil Caruso
 Russell Crowe stars as John Brennan and Olivia Wilde stars as Nicole in Lionsgate Films’ The Next Three Days (2010). Photo credit by: Phil Caruso.