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'Next Three Days' gripping and suspenseful

Article Published: Nov. 25, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'Next Three Days' gripping and suspenseful

Elizabeth Banks and Russell Crowe star in 'The Next Three Days.'

Like his deli sausage counterpart, screenwriter and director Paul Haggis can be hard to stomach.
While his writing has brought us standout films like "Million Dollar Baby" and "Letters from Iwo Jima," he's also the man behind the pedestrian race drama, "Crash," and "Walker: Texas Ranger."

As a director, Haggis is still stretching his casing (this sausage analogy ends here, by the way), and his latest product is stuffed with suspense, intrigue and Russell Crowe.

"The Next Three Days" is a gripping suspense drama, combining themes of morality and rationality with the timeless intrigue of a prison break. Well-acted and effectively shot, its narrative shortcomings are overshadowed by standout performances from Crowe ("Gladiator") and Elizabeth Banks ("W.").

Crowe is John Brennan, a community college literature professor, whose happy life is interrupted when police raid his house, arresting wife Lara (Banks) and terrifying their young son, Luke.
Surprisingly, Lara's been accused of first-degree murder. Convicted as such, and with her appeals denied, she's sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Refusing to accept this fate for his family, John decides to take matters into his own hands. Investing countless hours of research, with key advice from ex-con-turned-author Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson, "Taken"), John devises a scheme to break Lara out of prison, escape their native Pittsburgh with young Luke in tow, and flee the country.

It's a tall order, but Haggis's straightforward storytelling, along with his leads' convincing performances, keeps the story moving and believable, despite any questions of plausibility.
An incredibly intense final act brings it all to a head, while keeping viewers perched on the edge of their seats.

John's goal isn't a walk in the park, literally and emotionally, and Crowe's portrayal of a man battling with the perception of morality is both pleasantly understated and exceptionally engaging. As Lara, Banks continues to demonstrate her versatility, taking an excellent dramatic turn as a mother grappling with her imposed isolation and its effects on her family.

An underused but effective Brian Dennehy ("First Blood") rounds out the performances, along with a brief appearance by Daniel Stern ("Home Alone").

Based on the 2008 French film, "Anything for Her," "The Next Three Days" proves that American adaptations of foreign cinema can be successfully done, provided the dumb-down factor is kept to a bare minimum, preferably barred altogether.

With a self-penned screenplay, Haggis accomplishes this, though a tacked-on scene toward the film's conclusion eliminates an appropriate sense of narrative ambiguity for the sake of resolution. But after that white-knuckle climax, a chance to catch one's breath isn't necessarily a bad thing - especially if that breath doesn't smell like haggis.

"The Next Three Days," rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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