November 24, 2010

The Next Three Days

In The Next Three Days, which was filmed on location in Pittsburgh, Russell Crowe looks puffy and inept as a high school English teacher who devises a plan to bust his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail. She was convicted of murdering her boss three years earlier, but Crowe's character isn't interested in whether or not she did it: he just wants his wife back. Crowe is the movie, because Banks spends most of it stuck in the slammer awaiting his visitations, and while she gives a successful performance, it's Crowe's task to make this movie believable.

The improbabilities that bog this movie down are manifold. It's hard enough to believe that Crowe's character could successfully break anyone out of jail, but the movie covers that problem by letting him fail, frequently. He tries to find people in Pittsburgh's ghettos to get him fake I.D.'s and winds up getting his face smashed (and his pocket picked). In fact, you get the feeling that his own lack of street-smarts will dissuade him from undertaking the operation altogether, but he persists, even when it seems impossible to prove his wife's guilt.

The movie is suspenseful and keeps your stomach in knots, but it's the moral ambiguity that makes The Next Three Days a little more interesting. You start to think that Crowe's character has gone bonkers just like Don Quixote, who comes up during a discussion in his class, and provides a clumsy impetus for our understanding of Crowe's transformation. He simply refuses to accept the reality of his wife being in prison for murder, so he opts for an alternate reality. Quite interesting, but the movie doesn't have the strength of its convictions. [SPOILER] We're let off the hook at the end because Bonnie and Clyde turn out to be nice and innocent, not mean and cold-blooded. Crowe makes it work, but the movie is just a heartbeat away from being an absolutely inconceivable mess. With lesser talents it would have been just that, but as it is, I liked it for the most part.

Adapted from the French film Pour Elle (Anything For Her) (2007). Directed by Paul Haggis. With Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, Jason Beghe, Olivia Wilde. 125 min. ½

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