On the surface, the trailers for director Paul Haggis' THE NEXT THREE DAYS looks like a thrill-a-minute, popcorn flick that offers nail-biting suspense and relentless excitement. But Paul Haggis's third feature here, following from his 2005's Oscar-winning racial drama CRASH and 2007's war drama IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH, is surprisingly a major step down for a highly-acclaimed filmmaker like him. Instead, THE NEXT THREE DAYS is a painfully slow-burning thriller that takes too much time in its melodramatic approach and scores pretty low in term of excitement normally expected for this kind of genre.
The story, which is actually a remake of the 2008's French thriller POUR ELLE, centers on John (Russell Crowe) and Laura Brennan (Elizabeth Banks), whose happy family life quickly falls apart in the blink of an eye when the police storm their house and arrest Laura for murder. Apparently Laura is charged for the brutal parking garage murder of her boss the same night before they have dinner together. Laura claims that she ran into somebody in the garage immediately after the crime and she heard a button pop off her jacket, which is a crucial evidence that could proves her innocence. However, no button is found and she is immediately found guilty of charge. John has been trying hard to file multiple appeals while struggling to raise their kid, six-year-old son Luke (Ty Simpkins). After he realizes that his lawyer unable to help him further, he becomes obsessed with finding a way of breaking Laura out of jail. So he meets up crime author and ex-convict, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who used to stage his own jailbreak, for extensive advice. What follows next is an elaborate scheme John takes matter in his own hand to analyze and plan to set his wife free.
From the outlook of the story, the movie should have been entertaining that it's almost feel as if you are watching a big-screen version of TV's Prison Break. Too bad that's hardly a case since Haggis seems to be trying too hard to build up thick drama surrounding John's grief and struggle along the process he have to cope while his wife is in prison. Frankly, there's nothing wrong about slow build-up for the sake of developing the character further but the story is too labored until there are times the movie tends to grow silly and contrived. It's quite hard to swallow to see a mild-mannered school teacher like John manages to act and react like a pro within a short time of period once he's in the process of planning a daring escape to set his wife free.
Make no mistake, the cast, headlined by Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, are actually good with their strong performances. Except that the fact their characters are mostly wasted by the weak and contrived story. If you still care enough, the real excitement doesn't begin until the final 30 minutes when John starts to set his wife free. The particular final third-act is tautly staged, that begins from a relentless foot chase at the hospital to the public area and subway train before ends up in a pulse-pounding car chase scene. The action set piece is no doubt expertly shot by Haggis and cinematographer Stephane Fontaine that gives the movie the much-needed urgency.
Too bad THE NEXT THREE DAYS remains a major disappointment for a high-profile movie that involves a caliber of talented people by the likes of Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks. The biggest question is, what is Paul Haggis thinking anyway?