I have a couple of statements to make. The first is: just because you didn’t like a movie, doesn’t mean it was bad. There are certainly bad movies, but whether or not they are bad doesn’t necessarily hinge on whether or not you (or anyone else) enjoyed them. Likely, there is someone out there who has enjoyed any movie you can name. I bet even Battlefield Earth has fans. Here’s the second statement: Russell Crowe doesn’t make bad movies. Yes, of course, this comes with some caveats. We all know I’m a huge fan, but I’d like to state for the record that I am capable of putting aside my love of an actor when it comes to assessing his or her work. Additionally, that statement should actually read: Russell Crowe hasn’t made any bad movies since he became a big star. I’ve seen two that were not very good (Virtuosity, which I still enjoy immensely, and Heaven’s Burning, which I actively disliked) but they’re both pre-Gladiator. He makes a lot of movies that critics are grouchy about, for various reasons, and that a lot of people don’t like because they don’t like him, but those movies, while not always great, are never out-and-out bad. And if you want to argue that point with me, bring it on. Unless you’ve seen more than twenty-six of his films, I will welcome the challenge.
The Next Three Days is number 26. It’s a remake of a French film in which a man whose wife has been imprisoned for murder seeks to find a way to free her. In this version, Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, a community college English professor, who becomes single-mindedly obsessed with reuniting his family after his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of murdering her boss. It’s a slow-burn thriller, held together by the question of whether or not Lara is actually guilty of her crime, and whether or not John will successfully break her out of jail and make it out of the country.
Those two ambiguities, along with Crowe’s usual solid performance, make the movie worth watching. As Brennan does research, makes preparations and generally seems to be headed down a path of destruction, the sense of dread becomes almost intolerable. His unwavering focus from the task at hand really must be interpreted as a form of insanity; since he’s an English professor, we even get a class discussion on the “reality” of Don Quixote, just to drive the point home. As mistakes and mishaps start to pile up, one starts to wonder not only how the movie will end, but also how we even want it to end. Whether or not Lara is guilty of a crime, in the end, whether or not he succeeds, John will be a changed man given the illegalities of what he’s planning, and what he must go through to enact his scheme.
The failing of this kind of set-up is that much of the movie is really slow. When you add that to the sense of impending doom, it’s not exactly a comfortable movie to watch. Particularly for a pair of new-ish parents, watching a man make a series of really bad decisions that will affect his son’s life is actually kind of painful. It really is a testament to Crowe’s skill as an actor that the movie does hold together, since he carries about 99% of it. Banks is fine as Lara, who we mainly see struggling with life in prison. Liam Neeson makes a brief appearance as former convict and escapee to whom Brennan turns for advice, and Ty Simpkins, as the Brennan’s son Luke, serves as something of an emotional center. While his father focuses his pain, Ty can’t seem to break free from him, and is a quiet, sad figure throughout the movie. There’s also a nice cameo by Brian Dennehy (who looks old, sadly) as John’s father. Overall, though, we’re talking two and a half hours of Russell Crowe playing a man whose life has a burning and all-encompassing purpose. He could probably do that in his sleep.
So, do I recommend it? It’s definitely not my favorite Crowe film, but I think it has a lot of merit. If you like slow-building tension and elaborate schemes, you’ll probably enjoy it. The movie as a whole is sort of standard, I guess. There’s not a whole lot of violence, or drama; it maintains a fairly even keel throughout, with that feeling of lurking disaster being the most notable characteristic. Once the final sequence of events starts to unfold, it does get pretty exciting, but unfortunately, a lot of the set-up is boring, and I felt as though there were other aspects of what John and Luke were going through that could have been more interesting in terms of character development. I guess I’d have to say ultimately that The Next Three Days is fairly mediocre outside of Crowe’s performance. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. Use that information, coming from a big fan, as you will.