Russell Crowe Goes Hitchcockian in Taut ‘The Next Three Days’

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Average: 5 (4 votes) Oscarman rating: 4.5/5.0
Rating: 4.5/5.0

CHICAGO – The suspense thriller is a delicate art that depends on situational realism and unlikely circumstances cohabiting in a heart-pounding plot. The Master of the genre was Alfred Hitchcock, who often put ordinary people in these nail biting scenarios. Director Paul Haggis (”Crash”) uses this theme and does the Master proud in “The Next Three Days.”

Russell Crowe is John Brennan, a nebbishy Pittsburgh college instructor with a hard-charging wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and young son. The film opens with a flashback to a birthday dinner with John’s brother and sister-in-law. There is an outburst at dinner, and Lara is overzealously angry. The confrontation turns ugly, and John leads his wife out of the restaurant.

There is something strange in the context of the outburst, as Lara discovers a spot of blood on her coat. She is washing the stain out the next morning as the police burst in, arresting her and charging her with the murder of her boss. Lara had a very public disagreement with her superior the night of the murder (the same night as the restaurant incident) and circumstantial evidence points completely to her guilt. The justice system does the rest, and Lara is sentenced to life imprisonment.

The sentence wakes up the usually sad sack John, who berates their attorney (Daniel Stern) unmercifully and hits a wall of frustration when the lawyer tells him the case cannot be appealed successfully. This memory brings him back to the present, where John is now searching for other means of getting his beloved wife out of prison, including the usually impossible notion of breaking her out.

Incarceration: Elizabeth Banks as Lara and Russell Crowe as John in ‘The Next Three Days’
Incarceration: Elizabeth Banks as Lara and Russell Crowe as John in ‘The Next Three Days’
Photo credit: Phil Caruso for © Lionsgate

One concept is planted in John’s head. The gathering of knowledge that it takes to attempt it leads him to a breakout expert (Liam Neeson), an attractive single mother (Olivia Wilde) who may provide some distraction and his estranged father (Brian Dennehy) who seems to know a little more than he lets on. The next three days will determine everything.

As was mentioned earlier, the suspense thriller is a delicate art, spun like a spider’s web, with thin threads that can break at any moment, but can also snare an audience that feeds into it. Screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, adapting a foreign film version of the story, weaves a tremendously entertaining piece of subterfuge. The best suspense stories always leaves us guessing, and the motivations presented in The Next Three Days points towards the mysteries and secrets of the interior being. Lara is prone to anger, John’s Dad is a sullen naysayer and even John, in all his ‘what I did for love’ mode, seems possessed by something strange. In other words, in the best Hitchcockian tone, nothing is what it seems.

The set-up of the potential prison break is formidable. Haggis’s use of the modern YouTube video is particularly fun, as John looks up various ways to crack the general security lock-down that has occured post 9/11. This is surprising access for anybody to use, and reasonably gets around the scare tactics of locks and lasers. Liam Neeson’s cameo as the breakout expert, complete with mysterious scar, is a crazy quilt of character presence, one of those ten minute roles that could garner an Oscar nod. Haggis even throws in a MacGuffin (another Hitchcockian term, a plot point that seems important then isn’t), which diverts precisely.

Pulling the whole thing off requires a buy-in from a substantial cast, and nobody disappoints, especially the leads. Crowe is a complete performer, wearing a character like a tailored suit. He never overdoes the obsession, but gives enough so that his motives remain viable. There is a bit of ‘Death Wish’ feeling to him, which distracts at times but remains appropriate. He simply never loses the love for Lara, although she is difficult. Elizabeth Banks is a revelation here, expanding her light-as-air persona into a mean ball of anger. She gives an Oscar worthy portrayal.

If Hitchcock would have been in a different era, he definitely would have used Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a setting for one of this unique tales. Haggis is inspired by this strange American city, a former burly industrial town, set on three rivers, which also was the birthplace of Andy Warhol. It is the perfect non-escape route, with easy ways to lock down in the event of an emergency. Its hilly terrain also features the steep angles that filmmakers love, creating an essence of atmosphere that is vital for the suspense thriller.

Part of the Plan: Liam Neeson as Damon and Russell Crowe in ‘The Next Three Days’
Part of the Plan: Liam Neeson as Damon and Russell Crowe in ‘The Next Three Days’
Photo credit: Phil Caruso for © Lionsgate

There are a few overindulgent moments and questionable interactions in the way John set ups his plan, but it is forgivable due to the overall pleasure the film provides. As in the best of the genre, it evokes laughter, empathy and gratifying oh-my-gosh turns.

How far would you go for someone you truly loved? That is the theme of The Next Three Days, setting free a true passion burning underneath the surface of everyday life. When backed up against it, we are smarter than we think. The Master himself, Alfred Hitchcock, would be proud.

”The Next Three Days” opens everywhere on November 19th. Featuring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Stern and Brian Dennehy Screenplay by Paul Haggis, directed by Paul Haggis. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

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A Slightly Different Viewpoint of "The Next Three Days"

Movie: The Next Three Days

The movie I just watched today was excellent. Right on topic with what I’m most interested; namely, the subject of reality and again the collectivists trying to pull the disinformation game.

Early in the movie there is a reference to Don Quixote in Russell Crowe’s class and how reality is subjective which is the set up that this is movie is a discussion of realities subjective nature. Carlos Castaneda processes much of this in his books to the point that if a person is focused on changing his reality he can proceed and execute every plan with flawless delivery. The book “Hagakure” also touches on this briefly on various pages. One reference that comes to mind is, to be so focused on success that even in the last moment of death one can do even just one more act no matter how impossible before the life passes out of the body. In the movie “The Ninth Gate” Dean Corso makes off with a rare copy of Don Quixote, for his character development. Even this movie speaks on the subject of our perceived reality quite overtly.

Either way Russell Crowe’s character is faced with having to get his wife out of prison for a murder she didn’t commit, no secret she’s innocent, but even with Russell’s certain belief of his wife’s innocence, here in this world the law says you are a criminal, even though the law is fallible. Again reality is subjective and truth is hidden for lack of evidence and civil servants that are failingly, “only human”. Any appointed Judge should have picked up that the crime was plausibly deniable but there too is the subjective nature of reality where if it is plausibly deniable, in a collectivist world structure, the right answer is to convict the innocent. Any drain on resources is an acceptable drain on society, the individuals’ spirit, and the individuals’ family. Through tyranny of the state “they” feed on the human suffering. Law makers Judges, city builders and politicians all benefit personally, monetarily and get their fix of power over another’s. Not in any sense that we the sheep would ever clue into from their perspective. Conventional wisdom would say this is preposterous, putting an innocent in jail would result in lost dollars and there in lies is the flipside of the same coin. Collectivist and unwitting public live in the same physical world and operate in different realities.

Anyway back to the main storyline, the character Russell is playing—as in “The Fire From With In” by Carlos Castaneda— he goes up against the tyrant (the State) and even the criminals in this world know that he is too focused as he tries to purchase new identification passports and such, where upon receipt, the one forger on the motorcycle gives his sage advice “your trying too hard, your going to fuck it up”, very true as the Don’s of Castaneda advise Carlos to let it come naturally as anything worth doing won’t come no matter how hard you concentrate. Eckhart Tolle a German spiritual guru in current favour of some on the subject of living in the moment, states that it is impossible to live in the moment always, well let me back up he doesn’t say this so much as demonstrates that although we can have brief periods of living in the moment, it requires focus but not concentration because the very act of concentration means you are not here anymore your mind is somewhere else. Just like if you try to empty your mind of thought, you can do it for a fleeting moment, but as soon as you think your doing it you realize your not.

So with this revelation, Russell’s character after this changes as he learns he doesn’t have as much time as he thought after the “Bump Key” mistake he is now on the radar and attention is put on him, he can’t continue with this plan anymore. So now he has to let the new plan come naturally and realizes his wife’s diabetes is the new “Key”, he is totally rejuvenated and shows this as he exacts his plan with confidence. From the medical deliver truck he passes though like clockwork, when he strides up to the telephone cable box and cuts the phones strategically and moves on to take his son to the birthday party for safe keeping and contingency plan on contingency is shown and he strides through every seeming stumbling block as though he has replayed this role of a loving husband. Getting his wife out and changing his reality or creating a new reality were he and his family can be happy, defeating the tyrant “the State”. This act of perfection in plan has a overall grand unifying aspect as the tyrant is defeated, the world can become a bit better bit by bit. This possibility is glimpsed at the end of the movie when the one detective, perhaps astounded by the perfect getaway in his mind, wonders if it was meant to be by going back to the original crime seen to find the button in the wife’s testimony, if he had been able to see the button that revealed itself with the rain as he pulled the gutter grate off, the tyrant would have been defeated. If it weren’t for the human failing to “see” our tyrant would also be defeated and our reality would change.

Where the collectivist view and a lie or disinformation is imparted to the movie is with regard to trying to make us the audience believes the whole world or the State is so impossible to beat, 15 minutes before the city of Pittsburg is locked down and then 35 minutes the state is locked down. Well if there was anything the collectivist would want people to believe is just that, to stifle the individual and demoralize any attempt to rebel. You are their possession and under their thumb and it was luck every step of the way that Russell’s character and family got away. Again two sides to every coin, one reality vs another, a little bit of truth with a lie to let it settle into the viewers subconscious so you settle down and don’t try to create your own reality to be free.

Conventional wisdom would say, if the state would want to truly keep people ignorant why would they let such a movie hit the theatres for public viewing. I could say it has to do with keeping things palatable to enter the subconscious of humans. Our minds are so apt to reject anything contrived and for this reason a mixing of truth with disinformation makes the medicine go down. This would be dismissed by conventional wisdom and certain people would just rather say reality is reality or quote Occam’s Razor or something and burry their head in the sand but this is just a coping mechanism. Even after saying all this, reality is a bitter pill to swallow and some just need to believe there is a steak in front of them and that it tastes good.

Corporate-Punishment dot com

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