The Next Three Days marks Russell Crowe's fourth thriller in the last three years. I must admit I've personally grown a little weary of Crowe's current trend of thrillers, this has nothing to do with his performance I've simply felt the films themselves have lacked the overall exceptional quality and memorability that some of his past projects have produced. Personally I'd prefer another western, drama or even a romantic comedy (I'm one of few who loves A Good Year), but I will say his thriller selection has definitely improved with each new role and The Next Three Days is no exception to that trend.
Russell Crowe is John Brennan a community college teacher whose life is instantly turned upside down when the cops breakdown his door and arrest his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) for the murder of her boss. Fast forward three years later and his wife is in prison and according to their lawyer all hope is essentially lost, the evidence all points to Lara. With Lara now faced with spending the rest of her life in prison and all the legal channels exhausted John is pushed do take matters into his own hands, he's still convinced his wife is innocent. His research brings him to a man named Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who'd escaped from prison seven times. Pennington provides him with the basic plans he'd need to have in place and the typical response times by the authorities, warning John that to successfully pull off an escape he has to be willing to do anything.
The Next Three Days is the best thriller I've seen since Taken, although the two films are nothing unlike, they both succeed in keeping you guessing and on the edge of your seat the entire time. There are essentially three aspects of the film that make The Next Three Days work; first, Russell Crowe once again proves he can take on seemingly any role. I've stated this so many times in the past I probably sound like a broken record, but I honestly don't think I've seen Crowe portray the same type of character twice, it's amazing. For a film like this to work you have to believe the main character. For it to have an emotional effect you have to believe there's some real personal struggle between the character and what they have to do to succeed. Crowe portrays that flawlessly and without that the film would have been nothing.
Second, you're never absolutely sure Lara is innocent or guilty until the very end. This adds to the already overwhelming suspense of not knowing whether or not John can pull this off both mentally and physically. The writers do a fine job of continuously throwing you curve balls and almost every scene between Crowe and Banks will probably cause you to second guess yourself. Banks also does a fine job of adding to the confusion even when she doesn't say anything, it's her facial expressions and behaviors that can cause you to be thrown for a loop. With a majority of the film made up of John planning an escape all of this indecision builds up, and if by the final 25-30 minutes you're not on the edge of your seat holding your breath its probably because you don't have a pulse.
Third, the film's solid supporting cast. While Russell Crowe's performance guides the film, the cast of stellar supporting actors only help in making it that much greater. I've never been a big fan of Elizabeth Banks, mainly due to the fact I've never seen her in anything that was very good, but the emotional performance she gives here easily makes this one of her best performances. Throw in some of the smaller roles played by Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, Daniel Stern and Olivia Wilde, which are all well done, and you've got some great actors for Crowe to bounce off of.
Overall, there's nothing extremely negative I can say about The Next Three Days, it's possibly a little longer than it needed to be, but not once was I bored or did the film seem to drag. In my opinon this is Russell's best film in almost four years (going back to the great 3:10 To Yuma), still I personally don't buy into the Oscar talk that seems to be floating around, I think this type of early hype might actually end up doing more harm than good. This is the type of film you need to go into without any preconceived ideas of greatness. If you're looking for an excellent, continuously thrilling film, with great acting then this is for you. If you're solely going to see this because people think it's Oscar worthy then you're going in with the wrong mindset and will probably come out with an opinon that's a little unenthusiastic, compared to if you just go in looking to be entertained.
I took my father to see this who usually doesn't have a high patience level for longer films, he knew nothing about the film going in and hasn't been a big fan of any Russell Crowe film since Gladiator, so I wasn't expecting a very overly positive reaction from him. Surprisingly when it was over he said he liked it as much as Gladiator and that while it was a bit long he was entertained the entire time and thought Crowe did a great job in really making you feel for his characters plight. Well Russell, you won over my father, in my book that's a success!