Paul Haggis seems to have two gears as a filmmaker: thoughtful or sanctimonious. There’s no denying that he was one of the ingredients that made the Daniel Craig Bond films a step above the works that came before, and his In the Valley of Elah wasn’t a great film, but it was definitely an advance on Crash. Sanctimonious Haggis is the guy who made Crash, a very self-important film about how people relate in Los Angeles. Also in the “S” category is the writer of Million Dollar Baby. This is a guy who can’t help but dot the I’s and cross his T’s when it comes to spelling things out.
The most appealing thing about The Next Three Days was that Haggis was no longer making award bait, but a thriller with Russell Crowe playing the determined husband of Elizabeth Banks. Banks is convicted of murder and after all their appeals are denied, he figures the only way to get her out of jail is to break her out. This puts Haggis in more Bond mode, and with a great cast that also includes Olivia Wilde, Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy. What better way for Haggis to not be weighed down with heady issues? And yet The Next Three Days bombed, and home video does it no favors. The review of The Next Three Days on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Crowe plays John Brennan, and the film begins with him and his wife Lara (Banks) at dinner with some friends, then shows the two getting into a playful argument before fooling around in their car. It’s meant to establish that they’re in a happy relationship, because that’s going to change quick. They go home to their kid and the next morning it’s all happiness and what have you. And then the cops show up and take away Lara, who is found washing blood of her coat. The day before Lara was seen arguing with her boss, and with the blood and fingerprints on the murder weapon, she’s convicted. Cut to: their lawyer (Daniel Stern) tells John that their appeals are exhausted. So John decides to talk to Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), who has broke out of prison repeatedly and written a book about it. So John dedicates himself to figuring out how to get his wife out of jail and out of town before the net is lowered.
The premise of the film is solid for a thriller, but Paul Haggis is – as evinced by this – a better writer than director, and an even worse judge of editing. There is no reason for this film to be 134 minutes long, and in a thriller every minute counts. All directors have babies, and the old adage “you have to kill your babies” is apparent here – Haggis cleary couldn’t cut anything, so it all goes limp. It takes until about the 80 minute mark for the escape to happen, but Haggis isn’t methodical to that point. He wants to be jazzy, and these films require the director and script to be on point once the plan comes into focus. But there’s a lot of wasted time and gestures, so by the time you get to the escape, the air is out. And by then there is a ticking clock, which the film should follow. This is the time a director has to torture his audience, and Haggis cuts away and compresses time too much when this is the meat of the story. It’s really misguided.
The error on Haggis’s part is when John fucks up and gives away money to the wrong people for passports because it’s a sequence that goes on too long for a movie that’s already gone too long. We know the main character is going to attempt this jail break – it’s the point of the film, and there’s too many sequences that dawdle that aren’t adding to the whole. But then you have Olivia Wilde is in the film, and her role is important, but not so important that you don’t wonder why she isn’t in the film more. It’s the same with Neeson, though his role is better essayed. Things throughout seem at the wrong pitch. Should I be curious if Russell Crowe is going to fuck Olivia Wilde, because there seems to be some tension there, but it may be a byproduct of Wilde having nothing to do. But Haggis doesn’t focus you, and these curiosities end up hurting the film.
What Haggis is relatively good at is getting performance and having the right tone – in the end, he manages a good sting or two for the climax that isn’t too obvious. The Next Three Days is mostly just misguided but all the pieces are there, but it makes the film all the more frustrating. Alas, it was a remake of a French film called Pour Elle which is supposedly a million times better. I believe that.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray presents the film along with a DVD and digital copy. The film is in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 7.1 DTS-HD master audio, and as to be expected with a modern release, it looks perfect. The film comes with a commentary by Haggis, producer Michael Nozik, and Editor Jo Francis. Featurettes include a making of (18 min.) with the cast and crew, “The Men of The Next Three Days” (7 min.) that highlights the male actors (especially Neeson and Crowe), “True Escapes for Love” (8 min.) tries to tie the film’s story into real life events, and then there’s “Cast Moments” (2 min.), which function as outtakes. There are thirteen deleted scenes (14 min.) that are mostly snippets and four extended sequences (7 min.), along with bonus trailers.