Studio Name: Lionsgate
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Director: Paul Haggis
Starring Cast: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks
Flying under the theatrical radar and becoming a kind of direct-to-video misfire a la films like Wes Craven’s Red Eye or the Al Pacino thriller 88 Minutes, Paul Haggis’ portrayal of a husband pushed to the emotional brink to free his imprisoned wife just falls flat somewhere. The premise had a lot of potential, as we have been seeing in a lot of Hollywood efforts as of late, but something just goes wrong along the line – and, again, Russell Crowe’s performance here proves to me this actor will never play another role quite like his “Maximus” character in the seminal Gladiator. Did I buy him as the bipolar math genius in A Beautiful Mind? Sure. Is he just a weird, sort of bumbling performer since then in things like Body of Lies and now The Next Three Days? You betcha. There is just something…I don’t know…”not that talented” about this guy, and I get the notion every time I see him in something new. Knowing a great deal about the real case, I thought he was an absolutely atrocious choice to portray “Ritchie Roberts” in An American Gangster as he acted and spoke nothing like this guy – then again, I didn’t agree with Scott using Denzel as Frank Lucas, but that’s another story for another time; apparently, Denzel is being considered to portray President Barack Obama in a future film….if Hollywood cannot see that’s a severe and utterly pathetic mistake in casting, I don’t know how to help them.
The Next Three Days was a flop at the box office, from all reports, and I don’t even recall seeing it ever play in my neck of the woods. As I mentioned, the premise had potential – Crowe portrays a community college professor married to Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year Old Virgin, W), and their life is suddenly turned upside down when Banks is arrested for the murder of her boss, whom she was seen arguing violently with at work days before the incident, and even on the day of the incident. And while the trailers for this film suggested it was a prison-break story, headed by Crowe’s character who was so desperate to break his wife out of jail he would go to any lengths, it actually didn’t play that way – more than a hour into The Next Three Days, the story is still being set up in that you don’t even think Crowe is going to break her out of jail at all; he ends up stumbling around some drug-infested Pittsburgh neighborhoods, getting beat up by drug dealers and junkies, as he desperately searches for the right weapons to pull this prison break off. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The film opens with an onscreen message suggesting what events are about to transpire are happening in some kind of sequence – i.e. “The First Two Days,” “The Day After The Next,” etc. etc., and this process is repeated throughout, although we never really get to the film title’s namesake “Next Three Days.” That was just plain dumb. The film’s plot sets up Crowe, his brother and their two overtly attractive wives having dinner at a riverfront restaurant in Pittsburgh one evening; it’s clear Banks and Crowe’s brother’s wife don’t get along, as they begin a cat fight argument over Banks’ behavior at work with her “female boss” and Banks takes the opportunity to let her know she's been coming on too strong to Crowe (her husband)…and then all hell breaks loose at the table. The couples go their own way, and the next morning, Banks is in the bathroom when she discovers some blood on the raincoat she was wearing the night before. At that very moment, the doorbell rings and Pittsburgh cops bust into their house with a search warrant, immediately arresting Banks for the murder of her boss the previous evening.
We don’t really see what transpires in terms of Banks being formally charged or prosecuted, or if she was actually guilty of the crime or not, but she ends up in a maximum security prison, pretty no more with dirty, greasy locks for hair as compared to her platinum blonde streaks she had when she was strutting her stuff in designer skirts and stilettos before being prosecuted and sent to prison. This doesn’t deter Crowe from coming to visit her, though, as the first half hour or so portrays him and their son routinely seeing her at the jail, while Crowe desperately tries to build an appeal for her case with their attorney (played by Daniel Stern). When the appeals are rejected and it looks like Banks will spend her life behind bars for this murder, Crowe concocts an escape plan, meeting with Liam Neeson (who isn’t given anywhere near enough screen time in this) who was an ex-convict who wrote a book about escaping from prison. The two meet in Brooklyn, New York, where Neeson’s character is now living, and he breaks down for Crowe exactly what must be done in order to pull an escape attempt off. The interaction between Crowe and Neeson was probably the most exciting aspect of this plot, but it wasn’t developed enough and as I said, wasn’t given the proper amount of attention.
As the weeks pass, Crowe begins assembling and taking mental notes on what he needs to attempt this break – but a James Bond he is not. He watches You Tube videos on how to pick a lock and such, but when he makes a test attempt when visiting Banks in the prison one day, he is suspected of foul play by the guards when his “dummy key” gets stuck in an elevator slot. Further, he is beat unmercifully outside a bar one night when he attempts to meet with some underground scummy characters who promise him fake IDs and passports, to the point he just doesn’t know who to trust or what to do. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh detectives are following the clues leading to Crowe trying to help his wife bust out of prison (a bit farfetched, but okay) and it’s perhaps how it goes down that’s most surprising – the actual escape attempt doesn’t come at the prison itself, but rather in a hospital where Banks is transferred after Crowe manipulates her diabetic reports to get her in a position where he could infiltrate the hospital. Once there, he busts in her room and forces the guards watching her to release her, and the chase is on.
The remainder of The Next Three Days exhibits some mildly exciting chase sequences, as Banks and Crowe and their son attempt to outrun the cops, FBI agents trailing them and just about everyone else, and you find yourself cheering the family on as they weave between trains, cars and their own feet during this climactic hunt; perhaps most refreshing of all is the way Crowe’s bumbling mishaps earlier with the drug dealers and prison officials ends up culminating into a well-planned escape blueprint, always keeping one step ahead of the cops as he races away towards Canada with his wife and son. The idea is to get across the border and assume new identities in Canada, but this never ties up any loose ends still dangling in terms of what the family should do now, being that they’re still on the run and in hiding. There’s also the element of Banks’ character’s innocence or guilt – although she confesses to Crowe at one point that he was “wrong for assuming she didn’t do the crime,” it’s later suggested someone else was responsible and that person’s blood rubbed off on Banks’ raincoat during an encounter in the parking garage the night of the murder. Believe me – there is more to it than just this, so you’ll have to watch The Next Three Days in order to find out.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
To me, this was a pretty crummy-looking Blu-ray transfer. Although Lionsgate is definitely a studio that has come from behind and is really leading the motion picture industry as of late with top-billing titles and talent, something didn’t look right on this approximately 2.35:1 widescreen transfer – truth be told, the imagery here isn’t bright, sharp or otherwise visceral, instead bleached in dreary, cold, solemn hues suggesting the rainy, sometimes depressing backdrop of Pittsburgh and its weather. And I suppose this was rendered accurately on the transfer. But it just wasn’t pleasant to look at most of the time; most shots came off looking soft with a great deal of video/compression artifacts swarming in the background of scenes making for a generally unstable image. Colors during outdoor sequences which were not drenched in rain weren’t that eye-popping, and some sequences appeared a bit out of focus. This wasn’t one of the better Blu-ray Discs to come out in recent months.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
Outside of some rain/storm sequences which threw thunder effects into the surround channels, this was a rather uninspired sound mix; the overall volume of the track was hushed and the dynamics were a bit lacking. A sequence involving gunshots woke the soundstage up a bit, but in general, this was disappointing in the audio department as well.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
The Next Three Days was a tough one to sum up, because it wasn’t a terrible film, but it wasn’t really memorable either; the execution could have been better, as the premise was solid – a desperate man attempting to break his wife out of prison – but for a night’s entertainment, it wasn’t a complete waste. The problem is you wait a good hour for the action to match the suggested premise of the story, and by that time you’re a bit turned off; most of the film comes off portraying Crowe’s character being bullied by street thugs and drug dealers when he attempts to buy fake passports as well as depicting him breaking into a medical supply truck to rearrange Banks’ diabetic reports, but the real story doesn’t heat up until deep into the running time.
I suggest a rental.