Paul Haggis is a filmmaker whose body of works in the story / scriptwriting arena happens to be more prolific than that as a director, at the helm of films like the Oscar winning Crash (which was my favourite film of 2005) and In The Valley of Elah, while having story and scriptwriting duties in notable films like Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and his WWII companion pieces Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, and being involved with rebooting the James Bond franchise with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
The Next Three Days though is adapted from Pour Elle (Anything for Her), a 2008 French thriller by Fred Cavaye, based upon a story by Guillaume Lemans, which tells the tale of a high school teacher developing an all out plan to bust his wife out from jail. It's the same premise here with Russell Crowe as John Brennan leading what was a happy little life with wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and son Luke (twins Toby and Tyler Green as the toddler, and Ty Simpkins taking over the six year old role), before their routine gets rudely interrupted with the cops banging their door down and arresting Lara, with John getting caught offguard in similar fashion as Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen.
It's a tale of two halves as the first hour dwelled on John trying his best to work the legal angle for almost three years to defend and appeal his wife's sentence, before her suicide prompted him to walk on the other side of the law. Taking the cue and words of wisdom from Damon Pennington, played by Liam Neeson, that scene was perhaps the best within the first 60 minutes, as he briefs John on the clockwork fashion and insights on how the homeland security forces will work in an escaped convict situation. And it's not far fetched because this brings to mind the now famous incident from our own shores, with a terrorist having to escape from a detention centre through a combination of well thought out routines, and the exploitation of complacency created through those routines, and always being one step ahead in knowing the type of response met out every step of the way to aid in an escape.
But before Prison Break can happen, part of the fun amongst the talk heavy first half, is to witness John's stumble as he hooks up with those in the illegal trade to obtain the necessary tools to aid in his mission. It's gritty stuff here that plays along with our imagination should we walk on the dark side - where and how do we begin, and the tremendous distrust issues. It's an instructional first hour reminding us how much information is readily available for research out there on the Internet, for those determined enough to try at all costs. For John, nothing matters other than to reclaim his family life and to reset three long years of futile waiting, and the sacrifices he goes through makes us question the same - just how much are we willing to lose, including our morality, for our loved ones?
As expected and revealed in the trailers, those yearning for some action to happen will sit up during the second half, where it becomes The Fugitive for both John and Lara to escape from the pursuit of various security and the police force, and a scene I thought was paying homage to the Harrison Ford-Tommy Lee Jones movie was one where the pursued disappears amongst a procession. Some may balk at the unexpected pregnant pause as well where almost nothing is said when the husband and wife team sit out on a road shoulder, but I felt that the relatively quiet scene alone was screaming of a class treatment by Paul Haggis, a moment reflecting the sheer unbelievability of something intense that's pulled off, and a break necessitated by a conflict of objectives, and a hair-raising
Some may find fault with a slew of coincidences found in the film, but with most movies, Fate has to lend a hand for the narrative to happen, and it's no different here, although again referencing the local escaped convict incident, stranger things have happened that may seem absurdly unbelievable, but they did, and Haggis does deal with some of these scenes, big and small, with a deft hand to heighten the tension and suspense, albeit a little bit cliche with you likely being able to guess the outcome.
With Brian Dennehy and Olivia Wilde, who will be seen in TRON: Legacy coming out soon, their scenes are brief but provide that potential for sprawling subplots that didn't overstay their welcome. Olivia Wilde's single mother Nicole could have thrown a spanner in the works, but I suppose she's the counterbalance necessary to demonstrate just how dogged John is in his prime objective, and commitment for better or worse to his wife. An admirable effort from Paul Haggis, but given his pedigree, I have actually expected a lot more unfortunately. Still, it's a recommended and respectable prison break flick with Crowe once again reminding us that he's capable of playing ordinary characters bounded to extraordinary situations.