The second big release right now to focus on the incarceration of innocents and the suggestion of a flawed criminal justice system where only the extreme defiant determination of family ties frees them, The Next Three Days unlike Conviction opts out of DNA/exoneration heartbreak as a triumphant dramatic tool. And goes directly for the post-9/11 paranoia, righteously rebellious jugular instead.
Written and Directed by Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, In The Valley Of Elah, Crash), The Next Three Days finds the ordinary life of suburban Pittsburgh family man John Brennan (Russell Crowe) abruptly destroyed when his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is tried and convicted of homicide. And in a circumstantial evidence case involving the murder of her boss that she didn’t get along with.
When the appeals process is exhausted and Lara is about to be transferred from the county jail to a state prison, the distraught community college teacher vows to come up with a plan to free her no matter what the consequences. And embark on lives as Weather Underground style fugitives, before that transfer occurs in three days.
Seeking the advice of an ex-con and master escape artist (Liam Neeson) who’s written a bestseller about it, Brennan is also that rare professor who practices what he preaches in class. In other words, taking inspiration from his own teachings about Don Quixote’s notion that belief in virtue is more important than virtue itself, Brennan deduces that if the system is not under our control, creating a reality that is under our control is what ‘drives men to be free.’ Pretty subversive fighting words for Hollywood.
And The Next Three Days is much more than a standard thriller. Executed effectively on multiple levels, the story fuses with breathless intensity an unnerving collage of intimate emotion, passion and provocative suspense, And unequivocal identification with an anti-hero breaking every established social convention, and then some.
And like Conviction, and the striking Ford Plant women machinists in Made In Dagenham, this film summons extraordinary gifts from the most unassuming and unlikely people imaginable, to rise above their everyday lives to tackle injustices with insurrectionary zeal, even if in this case, purely personal. Though in a surprise ending twist, Haggis playfully baits and switches with a similar political showdown touching on where The Next Three Days was filmed, and where its setting professes to be, no more will be said on that score.
So is one man’s terrorist another man’s Russell Crowe? You bet.
4 [out of 4] stars