Movie review – Prison break runs true

2011-01-21 12:13

Film: The Next Three Days (Nu Metro)
Director: Paul Haggis
Featuring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Olivia Wild and Liam Neeson
Rating: 8/10

As heart pounding and briskly paced as it may be, The Next Three Days is no run-of-the-mill thriller.

With Paul Haggis navigating and Russell Crowe in the ­driving seat, how could it be?

Haggis, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Crash, earned his action-writing chops at the knee of James Bond in Casino Royale and his ability to write great drama is undisputed given his resumé – In The Valley of Elah, Million Dollar Baby as well as Clint Eastwood’s World War II ­double bill, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters to Iwo Jima.

But this is nothing like any of Haggis’ other films; except that it is realistic, credibly written, draws an immediate emotional response and will keep everyone in the ­cinema on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

Based on the 2008 French ­thriller, Pour Elle, this American adaptation is as good as the ­original.

Crowe is university lecturer John Brennan. He has a happy life – a wife and son he loves, a job he finds satisfying and an ideal ­middle-class life.

Then his wife is arrested for murder and jailed for life.

He maintains his belief in the criminal justice system until the last chance of any appeal is gone, then he has to look elsewhere for a solution to get his wife out of prison.

The horror of Brennan’s predicament is visible in every moment of his life.

He lives in limbo, unable to go forward, desperate to go back to how things were, but that’s not an option.

So Brennan begins to plan a prison break – and this is far more authentic than anything you’ve seen on TV.

After all, how does a middle-class teacher get started?

Haggis’ script keeps it real: no sudden martial arts abilities for Brennan, no escape hatch or last-minute saviour for his wife.

Instead, the audience joins the ­protagonist on his gruelling quest to learn how to be a criminal.

Of course, at the centre of Brennan’s transformation is the question of whether his wife is going to want to have anything to do with him if he succeeds.

Can he go back to being who he was before? Are the changes to his moral fibre necessary to accomplish the task irrevocable?

A man driven by love to do something completely beyond his ken and so totally out of character, Crowe is mesmerising as Brennan.

He is also one of the most ­sympathetic and unlikely heroes to hit our screens in some time.

The supporting cast have little space to fill as Crowe’s character commands full attention.

Liam Neeson makes a low-key appearance as a former jailbird and Brian Dennehy gives a compelling performance as Brennan’s taciturn father.

Elizabeth Banks (Meet Dave, ­Surrogates) is Brennan’s wife Lara, and she is competent.

It is only through Brennan’s ­anguish that the audience gets any sense of her plight, though.

The Next Three Days is exciting and morally challenging. Great ­entertainment delivered with meaning by two of Hollywood’s greats: Haggis and Crowe.

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