The previews for The Next Three Days strongly indicated it was going to be a tale starring Russell Crowe and Liam Neeson, the two hunkiest mature men on screen today. I was very disappointed to discover that not only did Liam Neeson not co-star in the movie but he was in only one scene! Eegads. That is not what I was expecting. Liam-Neeson-disappointment aside, The Next Three Days is a good, solid, tension-filled action film about a husband who breaks his wife out of prison. Directed and co-written by Paul Haggis (Oscar winner for Crash), the film is lean and taut, and punches all the sympathy buttons. But for some reason, possibly the low-key performances of the lead players, the film just misses being great.
High-powered business woman Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) and her easy-going professor husband John Banks (Russell Crowe) are having a heated conversation with another couple in a restaurant. Lara grows increasingly irritated when she reveals she had a very heated conversation with her annoying boss and doesn’t receive much sympathy from the group. On the way home, John, in his usual way, tries to calm her down.
Next morning, the police burst into their home and arrest Lara for the brutal slaying of her boss in the office parking lot. Lara was seen driving away just before someone found the body, her fingerprints were on the murder weapon, a fire extinguisher, and everyone in the office had heard the two women argue. Lara claims she’s completely innocent and that on her way into to the parking lot, a strange woman ran past her, so fast that she heard a button on her coat loudly pop as it fell to the ground. Despite her claims to innocence, Lara is condemned to life imprisonment. Years go by as the appeals for her run out. John is close to bankruptcy, and their son Luke (Ty Simpkins) has become withdrawn and hostile.
Lara attempts suicide and John knows that he must get her out of prison before another suicide attempt is successful. He meets with former convict, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who broke out of prison seven times and wrote a book about his exploits. In one scene Pennington tells John all the principles he must follow to successfully break out of prison, reminding him that once he starts, he has to finish. Because prisoners who break out from prison are going to get killed by the police, any attempt at escape is a do or die situation.
John transforms himself from an absent-minded professor to a logistics expert, planning the break detail by detail and covering his walls at home with the step-by-step plan. He drives the city streets of Pittsburgh, finding every exit and alternate route, notices every detail of the prison operation on visiting days, switches Lara’s medical reports, finds forgers to make getaway documents, getting mugged in the process. When it’s announced that Lara is going to be transferred to another prison in a few days, one far from their home, John knows that he has to act now. Inadvertently, John’s father George Brennan (Brian Dennehy) finds the forged passports. He knows instantaneously what his son is planning to do and he keeps silent. It’s a poignant unforgettable moment in the film.
The day of the break comes and John’s biggest problem is convincing Lara to go along with the plan. She finally does and they’re off. One unplanned obstacle after another occurs, raising the stakes constantly, keeping you on the edge of your seat for over an hour. It’s quite thrilling and clever and you’re totally amazed at the plans John has made to pull off this daring escape.
If you miss The Last Three Days in the theatre, do see it on DVD, where the isolated nature of the story may actually be served better on the small screen.