Despite its advertising, The Next Three Days isn’t about convicted murderer Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks), but rather her obsessed husband John (Russell Crowe), who is convinced of her innocence and is willing to do anything — including breaking her out of jail — to restore their idyllic life together. It’s a darn good action thriller, too, though a bit slow in the first half.
The film opens three years in the past, with John and Lara a happily married couple, doting on their 3-year-old son Luke (played at 3 by twins Tyler and Toby Green, then at 6 by Ty Simpkins). They’re passionately in love and have a good life together. Then Lara finds a blood stain on her jacket just as Pittsburgh cops appear to arrest her for the murder of her boss. The damning evidence? The two fought the previous day at work, the blood stain matches, and a witness places her at the scene of the murder.
There are glitches in the storyline, including an unprofessional attorney (Daniel Stern) and a scene where college literature professor John successfully takes on a room full of thugs, but there wasn’t anything that lost me as the film proceeded to its satisfyingly ambiguous ending.
Once he realizes Lara’s not getting out on appeal, John spends weeks scoping her jail in preparation for breaking her out, just to find out that she’s being transferred to another jail in three days. The clock starts ticking.
Crowe is a solid actor who does a good job with this role of brooding, cunning husband; it’s Elizabeth Banks who is the weak link in the cast. The first time he visits her in jail she’s barely upset, and as the film proceeds, it’s clear she just can’t make us really care about her as an innocent woman wrongly imprisoned.
What makes The Next Three Days interesting is the complex web that John weaves, knowing that the police are going to be on his tail and leaving clues that aren’t always what they seem. Suspicious detective Quinn ( Jason Beghe) starts to become skeptical of the evidence, but the last few minutes are still a surprise. As with many films of this genre, however, there are moments when it seems too neat, too well planned.
Liam Neeson has a small part as prison break expert Damon Pennington, who is surprisingly open to being interviewed by John about his exploits. When the conversation switches and is obviously about how John can engineer a prison break, Damon plays along and explains how it’s done and the key concepts behind prison breaks.
I really enjoyed The Next Three Days and found the alternating shots of John and Lara trying to escape and the police running down clues and tightening the net on the fugitives quite exciting, a fine example of smart pacing that Tony Scott could learn from for his next tediously unrelenting movie-long chase scene. If you can forgive some less-than-stellar acting and a few minor hiccups on the story logic, it’s an engaging, suspenseful movie.