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The Next Three Days

A Prison-Escape Thriller

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Over the last half-decade, filmmaker Paul Haggis’s name has become synonymous with socially and politically themed films, initially with Million Dollar Baby in 2005 and a year later with Crash. Haggis’ latest film, The Next Three Days, leaves the messaging aside for a prison-escape thriller that’s every bit as entertaining as it is shallow.

A remake of Fred Cavayé’s 2007 French thriller Pour Elle (“Anything for Her”), The Next Three Days centers on John Brennan (Russell Crowe), a college professor. He’s happily married to Lara (Elizabeth Banks). Together, they have a three-year-old son, Luke. Brennan’s seemingly idyllic existence gets turned upside down when Lara’s arrested for the murder of her boss. Circumstantial evidence, including an argument earlier the same day with her boss, and more incriminating, a bloodstain on her overcoat, strongly suggests Lara’s guilt. Lara unpersuasively claims a young woman, possibly a drug addict, possibly a mugger, brushed her overcoat as she was entering the parking lot. Lara’s tried, convicted for murder, and sentenced 20 years to life.

After three years and unsuccessful appeals, Lara’s future looks bleak, but Brennan, unwaveringly convinced of her innocence, decides there’s only one alternative left: breaking Lara out of prison, fleeing the country with Lara and Luke (Ty Simpkins), and beginning a new life in a foreign country under assumed identities. Brennan turns to Damon (Liam Neeson, in a cameo), a repeat felon who broke out of several prisons and wrote a book about his experiences. Damon crisply lays out everything Brennan has to do over the next three months, a plan that gets accelerated when Brennan learns Lara’s being transferred to a distant maximum-security prison.

Not surprisingly, the third act focuses on Brennan putting his semi-improvised plan into action, complications, reversals, and a prolonged chase scene that proves, assuming it needed to be proved, that Haggis can direct tense, suspenseful action scenes.

Despite the sermon-ready subject matter, The Next Three Days doesn’t feel like a movie with a message for most of its two-hour running time. That might be due to its origin as a French film and not a Haggis original.

Unfortunately, Haggis chooses clarity over ambiguity, a closed ending instead of an open ending for the audience. He leaves Brennan still convinced of his wife’s innocence, but minus the evidence necessary to prove Brennan right or wrong. Haggis gives the audience a definitive answer (which won’t be spoiled here. The unambiguous ending allows Haggis to make an obvious, unsubtle point about the criminal justice system’s shortcomings — one few people would find controversial.