Movie News & Reviews

'Next Three Days' surprisingly believable

If my life of crime ever descends from the amateur to theprofessional, I'm going to sensibly invest a portion of my robbingsuntil I can buy a drill hand.

Not only will I be able to keep my lackeys in check and my enemies infear with an endless string of hardware-related puns, but it'll payoff in spades once I'm betrayed by my protege Johnny Rakefist andthrown into prison. They'll have to build a special metal-lined celljust to hold me. Little do they know I've arranged "Diamond-Toothed"Joe to occupy the cell next to me.

Hey, it's not that crazy, killjoys. If The Next Three Days isany indication, that'd hardly be any more work and expense than it'dtake to break out of jail the mundane way.

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In short order, Elizabeth Banks is arrested, convicted of the murderof her boss and sentenced to life in prison. Husband Russell Crowebelieves in her innocence, but the evidence is damning.

When her last appeal is unsuccessful, Crowe starts looking into waysto break her out. But he's a literary professor, not a criminal — andbusting someone out of jail is so hard, dangerous, and costly it maybe nothing more than a fantasy.

Writer/director Paul Haggis is best known for Crash, a moviethat, in some circles, has a legacy comparable to Caligula, both theemperor and the highly pornographic film. Crash's Best Picturewin over Brokeback Mountain stirred up a backlash so severejust mentioning its name to movie nerds will cause them to almostraise their voice. Fortunately, I still haven't seen Crash.Laziness? Or a brilliant move to avoid being prejudiced againstHaggis' later works? I think it's pretty obvious that

The Next Three Days shows the marks of somebody who knows whathe's doing. Banks is arrested before we even know a murder's beencommitted. Within minutes she's behind bars waiting on what might beher last appeal; we see Crowe's imagined flashback of what happenedthe night of the killing, but there's a chance — granted, it's a smallone, about as likely as Banks not looking good even when she's allprisoned up — that he might be biased in favor of his funny, sexyblonde wife.

It's a nice series of moves. With the question of Banks' guiltrendered academic, Haggis can focus on two things: Banks and Crowe'sfracturing relationship, which they handle well (especially sinceHaggis appears to have filmed in an alternate, librarian-foundedPittsburgh where no one's allowed to speak louder than a portentousmurmur), and Crowe's possibly delusional plan to spring Banks from thejoint.

This is no Ocean's Eleven, where the team of criminal expertsare so badass their next job will be to travel back in time to robKing Tut's tomb before the aliens can get to it. Crowe's character isout of his element, and Haggis smartly spends much more timechronicling Crowe's endless failures than the inevitability of hissuccess.

The result is a bunch of small, tense, down-to-earth scenes that setthe stage for a jailbreak that's surprisingly believable. Haggisstretches the drama a little too far, and his last-minute choicesthreaten to undermine our carefully earned suspension of disbelief,veering towards the territory of "Disregard all those shades of grayin favor of feeling completely safe and unthreatened." Still, it's aslip, not a tumble off a cliff with a bunch of movie-eating landsharksat the bottom. The Next Three Days is too well-crafted to bedone in by a misstep or two.

Grade: B