The release and production dates probably don’t line up for this, but still, it seems plausible that Paul Haggis caught Law Abiding Citizen, made it all the way through ’til the end, and then said to himself, “Really?” His The Next Three Days feels like a correction, a textbook film, one that builds, builds, builds, then pays off, and isn’t at all afraid of not living up to the action-packed, super-dramatic trailer. The trailer hooks you into the theater. The story keeps you there.
But, yes, if you’ve seen the trailer, you know the story: some suburban husband’s wife is wrongly accused of murder, so his only recourse is to break her out. What Haggis does with The Next Three Days is plant that built-for-action-and-intrigue-and-drama arc in the middle of a “When the legal system fails, the good man must take the law into his own hand” story. That good man up on screen, he’s our avatar, he’s who we know in our secret hearts we would be if circumstances demanded, if lives depended on it. So, watching a movie like The Next Three Days — or, to use broader strokes, Braveheart — what you suspect (but would never say) is that you, like that guy Russell Crowe’s playing up there, are also “un-activated.” Strip the constraints of society away, though, and look out. You too could face down a whole city, ninja through whatever obstacles the police have, Bo Duke it out on the highway, and save your family.
That’s not to say that the English prof hero is unbelievable in the least. That’s where Haggis’s writing and Crowe’s acting really come into play: you completely buy every bit of it. Well, OK. For the police to be the on-the-trail threat they are, it takes some serious coincidence, if not outright contrivance. Haggis knows this, and stretches the events as thin as he can without ever quite tearing them, as he’s done so many times before. He’s the kind of filmmaker you trust, and, no worries: he doesn’t disappoint this time out, either.
Moreover, Elizabeth Banks complements Crowe excellently. Who completely steals the show, though, is Brian Dennehy. And he speaks, what, like 15 words? But they’re such important words. There should be an award for least lines/most effect. Or more roles like this, anyway.
The Next Three Days is a movie to see, a story to engage, one that lets you leave the cineplex feeling a little like William Wallace yourself. And maybe it even makes English profs look a little cooler.