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

Infuriatingly dank and largely 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 a melodramatic answer. Paul Haggis’ crime drama opens on an everyday scenario.

Married parents John (Russell Crowe) and Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) are on a double date when an argument blows up between Lara and her brother-in-law’s girlfriend (Moran Atias). Lara’s anger burns out of control, a short fuse 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 - a prime example of first impressions at work.

The next day, Lara is arrested for the murder of her boss and it is this harrowing scene of police swirling the family abode and traumatizing a 3-year-old with their guns drawn, as they rip a mother away from her frightened child and helpless husband that paints an exceedingly disturbing image. It also draws the first of many grey lines comprising the movie's moral parameters.

After Lara’s last appeal for freedom is denied, John is 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 on.

Over the next two hours, the film toys with both notions for a substantial period of time. It does not rush or find a flashy solution. It is a display of bare bones desperation and 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's hard to feel a stir of immense empathy for her. “The Next Three Days” isn’t about the accused though, it is about her family.

They are the humanity the film is toiling to resolve. John is incredibly sympathetic, a man beaten down by life’s cruel circumstances, though not yet broken by them. He is the heart of the entire film and it is his devotion that one can’t 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 as to not have private conversations heard by undesired ears and it is small touches like these, that carry the movie's unassuming impact.

Russell Crowe anchors the film with a performance that demonstrates great breadth, wearing on his face John’s worn down morality as he strives to maintain his virtue. With a single look Crowe displays the character's sorrow and in the next, his unfettered drive and calculated resilience. Have no doubt; this is Crowe's film and he makes it a watchable one.

As the film froths over with dramatic developments, it places viewers in the crosshairs, burdening them with the dark reality of its premise. There is a not-too-subtle agenda that permeates the film, pushing credulity to drive its point home. The lack of interest from the press, a legal advocate and the worst “it was the street person!” defense 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 isn’t asking viewers to take that leap. It seemingly implores them to support John’s plan even if she is guilty, which is an atrocious proposal that costs the film.

While not implicitly endorsing the actions of its lead character, 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, but like a lot of storms its effects can be felt long after it's over.  
Rating: 6.9/10