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"The Next Three Days" - A Human Heist Thriller

Thatcher Svekis |
November 19, 2010 | 7:18 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The Next Three Days (Lionsgate)
The Next Three Days (Lionsgate)
A trademark of Paul Haggis’ work has always been a focus on human nature, exploring the base characteristics that connect us all whether we like it or not.

"Crash," directed by Haggis and winner of the 2005 Best Picture Oscar, spun a web around characters in Los Angeles divided from each other by race but linked by their fears of one another and their inherent hypocrisies.

Haggis wrote the screenplays for the two latest James Bond films ("Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace") that gave a heart to one of the world’s most unflappable womanizers and explored the motive of love and ensuing revenge.

Audiences can relate to his work because of this humanity and the recognition of its existence amidst extraordinary circumstances.

Haggis’ latest directorial effort, "The Next Three Days," doesn’t vary in this regard, yet the film often fails because the emotion is swept up and pushed aside by the erratic whirring of the plot.

The emotion is driven by John Brennan (Russell Crowe) and his love for his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks). When Lara is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, John takes it upon himself to break her out of jail.

At this point "The Next Three Days" becomes a quasi-heist film, with John planning his caper with help from a short Liam Neeson cameo and plenty of YouTube instructional videos (not a joke).

The complications that John faces and perseveres against demonstrate his love for Lara, and Mr. Crowe is more than convincing in the role of embattled but determined husband.

The problem is that the film poorly establishes his other half. After Lara’s arrest one doesn’t really care if she gets out of jail or not.

Some of the blame can be attributed to the curt way in which the movie establishes her character, but a lot can also probably be attributed to Mrs. Banks, who has a couple of nice moments but tends to convey much of the stress of incarceration through brown hair-dye.

That the question of her innocence remains just that makes it even harder to root for her.

The relationship that ends up meaning the most is that of John and their son Luke (Ty Simpkins); the two have enough personal moments in Lara’s absence to make you wish John would ditch the entire plan and dedicate his time to Luke.

As John plans the climactic jailbreak, he comes into contact with a glut of characters that dilute the central conflict more than serve it.

The most egregious examples are Olivia Wilde as a single mother who offers an unnecessary challenge to John’s love for Lara as well as multiple cops that challenge one another for the title of John’s main antagonist.

At first it appears that Jason Beghe’s Detective Quinn is the one aware of John’s scheme but in the third act we’re introduced to a whole new nemesis in Lieutenant Nabulsi (Lennie James, most recently seen in AMC’s "The Walking Dead") who dominates the end of the picture.

This surplus of characters sometimes does more damage than the questionable plotting does at ruining the movie’s coherence.

When the movie can focus though, and the human aspect comes through, it’s far and away at its best.

Haggis has not populated the movie with superhuman characters; John bumbles his way through the movie as a normal man would in such a fantastical situation.

As a result the simple moments, such as an estranged father’s goodbye to his son, land the heaviest emotional punches.

Sadly these moments are few and far between in the drive to move the plot forward, and the halting pace with which that happens clouds the few highlights.

Reach Thatcher here.
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