The Next Three Days (2010)

(In theaters, December 2010) One of the keys behind a successful thriller is being absolutely, indisputably, unarguably behind the main character.  Moral ambiguity may be fine for dramas, but for straight-ahead thrillers, it’s better to be on-board from the get-go.  Alas, it’s one of The Next Three Days’ biggest flaws that it never completely allows the audience to get behind the protagonist as he reinvents himself as a criminal in order to save his wife from a life imprisonment murder sentence.  It says far too much about my own views of law-and-order to confess that I spent two-thirds of the film silently disapproving of the hero’s jailbreaking plans.  Even at the end, I was actively cheering for the police to bring them in, and for at least one of the so-called heroes to kill themselves.  Once you’re at that point in moral allegiances, it’s hard to come back.  Part of the problem is also that The Next Three Days leaves far too much time for the audience to ponder morality: At two hours, the film is too long for its own good, and part of the problem is director Paul Haggis’ lack of commitment to thrills: The screenplay can’t decide whether it’s marking time as a ruminative drama or if it’s moving forward as a suspense film, and no amount of clever planning can overcome the lassitude of a film that doesn’t quite know how to get going.  Russell Crowe is fine as a schoolteacher who reinvents himself as a mastermind criminal, but Elizabeth Banks isn’t particularly sympathetic as the object of the film’s affection.  The result is, even if you can go along with the protagonist’s descent into criminality, a bit of a waste of talent for everyone involved: A pile of contrivances amount to little more than a fairly dull way to spend much of two hours.

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