Father Brennan's jailbreak

The Next Three Days (M). Director: Paul Haggis. Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson. Running time: 133 minutes

Writer-director Paul Haggis' remake of 2007 French film Pour Elle (Anything for Her) has Russell Crowe portraying father and husband John Brennan, a perenial everyman whose wife Lara (Banks) is serving a life sentence for murder. Innocent or not, the evidence against Lara is compelling: she's not getting out.

Not legally, anyway. After exhausting all avenues offered within the structures of the law, John decides to stage a good old-fashioned prison break. He seeks advice from a veteran prison-escapee, Damon Pennington (Neeson, in a memorable cameo), then sets about laying his scheme.

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A mess of maps and photos pinned to the wall of his study reflects the obsessive and meticulous nature of his planning. A series of close calls and violent altercations with underworld figures reveal his rising desperation, and set an assortment of generic coppers on his tail. There's no questioning John's devotion to Lara and to his cause: he puts his life and, it seems, his very soul on the line.


Haggis has done fine work as a screenwriter in the past, notably on the Clint Eastwood-directed Million Dollar Baby. The products of his stints in the director's chair (Crash, In the Valley of Elah), on the other hand, while sporadically powerful, tend to be bogged by self-importance. 

The Next Three Days continues this trend. Every glance and utterance is imbued with such a muck of earnestness that chunks of the film are rendered humourless and just plain dull.

There is a heavy-handed allusion to Don Quixote that doesn't really go anywhere. Also a fairly flat attempt at exploring the roots of John's stoicism, by lingering upon the a stonily silent relationship he shares with his father (Dennehy), to no great effect. More affecting is John's warm relationship with his own young son, Luke (Ty Simpkins), which at least seems authentic, if not revelatory.

But there is too much such domestic drama and navel-gazing for what could otherwise have been an effective, if conventional thriller. This is reflected in the film's over-long running time.

The Next Three Days does kick into a higher gear in its final act; the escape is well plotted, and the climactic chase sequence is both tense and surprising, and contains at least one moment of sheer, cathartic peril. This makes the film worthwhile, although it's a long time coming.

I am not a member of the Russell Crowe fan club, but in this instance Crowe's combination of ordinariness and stoic machismo serves the story and character well. We accept John both as a loving family man and, when the situation demands it, as a gutsy action man.

The former is important as it bolsters his conviction, while allowing him to retain his humanity as he embarks upon his occasionally violent mission. The extent to which his humanity will remain intact beyond the film's final moments is a question Haggis chooses to leave with his audience.


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: The Next Three Days, Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson

 

 

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