Before I watched The Next Three Days, I could only think of two Russell Crowe movies in which the gruff Aussie actor appears genuinely likeable: that standby tearjerker, Gladiator, and A
Beautiful Mind. Thankfully, Crowe’s portrayal of a bumbling yet devoted school teacher-turned escape artist in The Next Three Days redeems him, and he has become tolerable once again.
The Next Three Days centres around John Brennan, played by Crowe, a simple suburban father whose life is dramatically overturned when his wife is falsely accused of murdering her boss. Fast forward a few years and John’s wife Lara (played by an exceptionally haunting yet picturesque-looking Elizabeth Banks) has been sentenced to life in prison. Faced with the prospect of going through life without ever seeing their three-year-old son again, Lara becomes depressed and tries, among other coping methods, attempting suicide.
John, who is still helplessly in love with his wife despite having only seen her in stringy greasy hair and a red monkey suit for three years, decides he would rather be a fugitive than a single dad — and sets out to break her out of jail. What follows is a series of misadventures until John seemingly hits on a winning formula to break his wife out of prison and smuggle the whole family away to some Third World country where they can procreate in peace.
The movie’s plot is laced with fairly predictable fillers — like John’s run-in with some mafia-type hooligans during his quest to get a fake passport, and his budding attachment with a pretty lady that provokes a moment of self-doubt. Yet, predictable as these moments are, they are never cheesy, thanks to Crowe’s skilled acting and the film’s breakneck pace.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that nobody manages to steal the spotlight from Crowe during the entire film. At times vulnerable and in need of guidance, at other times steely and resolved, Crowe manages to evoke our sympathy even when he is doing something absolutely ridiculous, like contemplating leaving his son behind as he tries to make his great escape.
Of course, you could say the movie touches a chord because it is all about the importance of family, or the unassailable bond between mother and son. I disagree. The movie is a success because of its uncomplicated premise and quick succession of twists and turns. And since Crowe has of late become a bit pudgy round the middle, The Next Three Days also proves that a movie with a good plot can still work better than a film starring an unknown hunk and a surgically enhanced beach babe.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine May 22nd, 2011.
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