Monday, January 3, 2011

“The Next Three Days” – What would you do?

If your spouse was wrongly convicted of murder, how would you handle it? That’s the intriguing question asked by The Next Three Days. We see this story in the news every now and then and it usually ends with “…freed after twenty-nine years.” Obviously, you would exhaust every legal channel you could, but what do you do when those are used up and you have nothing left? Are you willing to wait for the full prison sentence to be served? What do you do during the prison sentence? After the prison sentence? It’s not an easy question or a fun one at that. This film presents one possible solution to that question.

Based on the previews, I was expecting this movie to be a mystery where Russell Crowe is investigating the murder since the police have closed the case. Instead, it’s a drama where Russell Crowe is breaking his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of prison. The catch in the story is that they have a young son who will be left parentless if his father fails. The son is the essential piece to this story because without him, the audience would have difficulty caring whether or not Crowe is successful. I’d like to think a man’s love for his wife would be enough for the audience to care, but today’s average moviegoer is just too cynical for something so trivial.

The film begins by quickly introducing us to the happy couple, John and Lara, then, quickly showing us the murder and evidence that puts Lara in prison. The reason it is done quickly is because we’re going to see it again later in the movie in much better detail. Plus, the filmmakers want you to question whether or not Lara is really innocent. Unfortunately, they give you very little reason to think she actually committed the murder, making this the weak link in the film. In fact, later in the film, Lara screams at John during a visit that he never even asked if she was guilty and tries to convince him that she did commit the murder. John simply says he knows she didn’t do it and doesn’t care what she says, summing up our belief as well. What little doubt remains on our part disappears when the crime is revisited near the end of the movie and we see the actual crime being committed. This is also the biggest problem with this film since it kind of spoils the intriguing question of guilt and makes the investigators seem rather stupid.

The victim is Lara’s boss, with whom she had a screaming fight earlier in the day. Witnesses describe this fight and it becomes the very weak motive for the crime. The body is discovered in the parking garage along with the murder weapon – a fire extinguisher. The final piece of evidence is a spot of blood of Lara’s shirt, which she hangs up in her closet without washing it. So if you’re fallowing along, Lara is accused of smashing her boss’s face in with a fire extinguisher, leaving said fire extinguisher near the body and not wiping her prints off, then hanging her bloody clothes in the closet to make sure the police are certain it was she who committed the crime. I don’t care how stupid criminals can be, there’s no way a murderer makes these mistakes. I could also be underestimating Paul Haggis (writer) and this was his plan to get you on John’s side the whole time by making the police seem incompetent. If so, well played, sir.

The rest of the film consists of John planning the jail break, then executing the plan. The tension is constantly building throughout the film because John is not a professional criminal and experiences numerous setbacks, which include getting his ass kicked and being robbed, among other things. But this is school teacher Russell Crowe, not Maximus Russell Crowe. The audience is always on the edge of its seat waiting for the other shoe to drop and make his son an orphan. Stirring our emotions even more are the grandparents, who want him to give up on Lara and focus on his son, and Nicole (Olivia Wilde), a friend who makes it clear that she is interested in John ‘teaching her a lesson or two.’ The reasons for John to give up his plan are strong, but his devotion and love for his wife are stronger. After setting his plan in motion, the tension only builds since, once again, he is only a school teacher. I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that you probably won’t blink for the last half hour of the film.

Now that you know one possible solution to the question asked earlier, what would you do? I know I’m not clever enough to plan a jail break, but I would devote all of my attention to proving my wife’s innocence because there’s no way I could sit on my hands for twenty-nine years. Although, I’d seriously consider it if Olivia Wilde was hitting on me.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. Even if you don’t like Crowe, the tension alone is worth the price.

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