Retro Movie Review: 'The Next Three Days' (2010)

The Next Three Days Movie Poster Russell Crowe John Brennan Lionsgate

Infuriatingly dank and mostly depressing, this nail-biter settles like an emotional cloud over the mind. If you have ever watched an episode of “Dateline” and wondered what happens to the family of those in the orange jumpsuit and what they endure when the cameras shut-off and public interest fades away, “The Next Three Days” offers an extremely intense answer. 

Paul Haggis’ crime drama opens on an everyday scenario. Married parents John (Russell Crowe) and Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks, “The Hunger Games” trilogy) are on a double date when an argument blows up between Lara and her brother-in-law’s girlfriend (Moran Atias, “Tyrant”). Lara’s anger burns out of control.

Her short fuse is on full display, and it is this scene that plays a pivotal role in setting up how viewers will perceive the film’s lead characters. As has gotten demonstrated in other works, it is a prime example of first impressions at work. With that incident fresh in viewers’ minds, Lara gets arrested for the murder of her boss the next day. 

It is the ensuing and harrowing scene of police swirling into the family abode and traumatizing a 3-year-old with their guns drawn that proves deeply troubling. The sight of the authorities ripping a mother away from her frightened child as her helpless husband gets forced to watch paints an exceedingly disturbing image. In depicting this, the movie draws the first of many grey lines that comprise its moral parameters.

After Lara’s last appeal for freedom gets denied, John finds himself faced with a decision. Break his wife out of jail, leaving his parents behind forever, to go on the run with his wife and son. Or accept the supervised prison visits with his incarcerated wife, as his son gets to know his mom in a rec room with guards watching their every move.

Over the next two hours, the film toys with both notions for a substantial period. It does not rush or find a flashy solution. It is a display of bare-bones desperation, and Paul Haggis’ direction lets viewers feel the bottomless dread that fills the space of time squeezing John into a pancake. The starkness of this situation is never sidestepped or left lacking in exhaustive contemplation.

There are no two ways around it. “The Next Three Days” is an emotionally draining ride. There are two movies at work here. The first half is a meditation on that aforementioned decision, and the second is the execution of that choice. There are no easy answers, and they all share painfully tragic outcomes. 

Lara -- the possible victim of injustice -- is not nearly as sympathetic as John. She is not instinctively trustworthy, and it is hard to feel a stir of immense empathy for her. “The Next Three Days” is not about the accused though. It is about her family.

They are the humanity the film is toiling to resolve. John is incredibly sympathetic. He is a man beaten down by life’s cruel circumstances, although not yet broken by them. John is the heart of the entire film, and it is his devotion that one cannot help feel worthy of rewarding.

Purposely slow and plodding, “The Next Three Days” sucks one into the drama, and the reaction to seeing it is visceral. Low murmurs of dialogue hint at the hushed tones its characters have adopted so as not to have private conversations heard by undesired ears. It is small touches like these that carry the movie’s direct impact.

Russell Crowe anchors the film with a performance that demonstrates his tremendous ability to transmit various emotions on his face. This is noticeable in how Crowe portrays John’s waning morality as he strives to maintain his virtue in the face of it. 

Crowe displays the character’s sorrow and, in the next, his unfettered drive and calculated resilience with a single glance. Have no doubt. “The Next Three Days” is Russell Crowe’s film every bit as much as his 2014 directorial debut “The Water Diviner,” and he makes the crime thriller a watchable one.

As the film froths over with dramatic developments, it places viewers in the crosshairs, burdening them with its premise’s dark reality. There is a not-too-subtle agenda that permeates “The Next Three Days,” as it pushes credulity to drive its point home. The lack of interest from the press, a legal advocate, and one of the worst defenses ever depicted, makes its objectives rather apparent.

Disappointingly, there is no voice given to the victim’s family, which would have realistically drawn John’s conscience into sharper focus. Believing Lara’s story is asking a lot, and ultimately, the film is not asking viewers to take that leap. Instead, “The Next Three Days” seemingly implores them to support John’s plan even if Lara is guilty, which is an atrocious proposal that costs the film.

While not implicitly endorsing its lead character’s actions, it presents the circumstances and the reactions to them with earnest intent. In the end, the questions it probes its audience with creates an unavoidable storm of conflicted pathos. Like all bad weather, “The Next Three Days” will move on, eventually withdrawing from viewers’ consciousness. Like a lot of storms, its effects can also get felt long after it is over. 

As of January 2021, “The Next Three Days” is streaming on Netflix alongside a lot of other great movies.

Rating: 6.9/10