Over-burdened prisons and DNA technology certify that sometimes the cops get it wrong – innocent people do go to prison. That’s the premise of Paul Haggis’ new film The Next Three Days adapted from the 2008 French film Pour Elle (Anything for Her).
John (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Elizabeth Banks) Brennan are a devoted couple experiencing modern day life. John, an English professor at a Pittsburgh community college, likes to go beyond the subject and delve into deeper meanings. When we first meet Lara, we learn she works in the corporate world and seems troubled by problems with her female boss. At home there’s a tender scene between John and his son Luke (Tyler & Toby Green) that reveals John as a tender and loving father. However, the family harmony turns into a volcanic eruption when law enforcement officers burst through the door and arrest Lara for murder. She drops the jacket she’s trying to rinse blood from as they drag her out the door shoving off an interfering John.
The story then jumps ahead three years. Lara, somewhat complacent in jail, becomes disturbed when she learns there will be no appeal of her case. A mountain of pressure descends on John when Lara tries to commit suicide and Luke no longer talks to his mother who is soon to be moved away to a state prison.
Although the premise is the same as in Anything for Her, Haggis (Crash, Letters from Iwo Jima, Million Dollar Baby) brings to this project an undeniable talent for raising the bar with action-thrillers and lots of plot twists. After the film, I had fun thinking about what first seemed like plot holes and realizing they are really well thought-out actions by Crowe’s character.
Haggis’ choice to cast Russell Crowe as John was a wise one. John realizes he’s about to take the biggest risk of his life by breaking his wife out of prison. In Crowe’s proficient performance, we see the progressive but meticulous journey he plots on his living room wall after his lengthy research. Like getting into the deeper meaning of the subjects he teaches or asking himself the question he asked his students — “What if we chose to exist in a reality completely of our own making?” — John uses intelligence to overcome his desperation plus a love that is never compromised to counterbalance his hopelessness.