Riskily released as counterprogramming to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2010’s The Next Three Days returned one of Russell Crowe’s weakest openings.
Although no hidden gem, Crowe could’ve done much worse than filling Mel Gibson’s family-man-of-action shoes. And writer-director Paul Haggis (2005’s Crash) thankfully shelves his sociology-degree sermonizing for this pure-pulp prison-break thriller, adapted from a French film called Anything for Her.
Crowe is John Brennan, a modest, milquetoast English teacher married to Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and raising a young son. After Lara is accused of murder — and swiftly convicted and imprisoned for the crime — John’s left in a lurch of expensive appeals, single parenting and marital despair.
Here, Crowe turns an atypically pudgy appearance to his favor — convincingly bleary, puffy and spent as the weight of time and stress makes John buckle. What could have been a mas macho Steve McQueen moment for Crowe instead feels as it might in real life — a man fumbling, early and often, toward modest heroism.
When Lara attempts suicide, John decides to risk it all — concocting a plan to spring Lara and flee the country with their son.
Eventually, John gets a tad jacked up on the less savory elements of his quest, which takes him and his Prius deep into Pittsburgh’s ghetto. When pushed to kill, John also grapples with abandoning the good impulses that motivated his plan from the start.
A sort of geographical Alcatraz on its own, Pittsburgh is a perfect setting for Days, as John discovers the harrowing all-in demands required of his plan.
Haggis also wisely avoids the double-whammy aspect of John trying to prove Lara’s innocence, which John essentially takes on faith.
Although Days eventually gives us a definitive answer, it does so in a way that doesn’t eliminate the damage done between them — a bittersweet conclusion that feels like the mainstream cousin to A History of Violence.
Days isn’t without some obnoxiously glaring flaws — exposition needlessly handed to a hearing-impaired character, too many softie moments with Crowe and Olivia Munn as a single mom he befriends, and a bloated 133-minute running time.
But Haggis achieves force-majeure momentum for the climax — a near-steroidal application of Murphy’s Law — and one of 2010’s more shocking character decisions, when John’s GPS becomes as much a moral compass as a directional one.
The Next Three Days arrives on Blu-ray with an impressive visual transfer and a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 that’s immersive from the start and thunderous during the climactic action. (A Danny Elfman score that doesn’t rely on his usual aural tricks is also mixed well.)
Haggis, producer Michael Nozik and editor Jo Francis provide a standard-issue audio commentary during which, amazingly, Haggis insists there’s ambiguity to the issue of Lara’s innocence. Either someone should have handed him a dictionary or someone tinkered with Days without him knowing.
Deleted and extended scenes largely focus on the toll John’s plan takes on him; although the film is already too long, some of these could have been subbed in for even stronger character development.
The disc also includes a gag reel and three boilerplate featurettes, Making The Next Three Days, The Men of The Next Three Days and True Escapes for Love.