Time is of the Essence

The Next Three Days

 

Paul Haggis’s directorial debut The Next Three Days makes for an absorbing thriller about a family torn apart by the conviction and imprisonment of the mother for murdering her boss. Haggis uses his trademark non-linear structure first seen in his Oscar winning film Crash, by setting up a scene of John Brennan played with surprising coolness by Russell Crowe driving through the darkened Pittsburgh streets with a dying man in his backseat.

Elizabeth Banks plays Lara Brennan incarcerated in the County Jail in Pittsburgh without hope of an appeal for her life sentence.

Not having much faith in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system, Brennan plans a daring jailbreak for his wife and an eventual escape of them and their young son from America.

In a brief scene, Liam Neeson makes a cameo guiding Brennan in the time constraints involved in breaking his wife out of a city jail. Pittsburgh is the perfect setting for this thriller with the city’s central business district consisting of a  triangular tract carved by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Pittsburgh ‘s urban county jail where Lara Brennen is situated, makes for a more difficult escape. Neeson sketches out that in 15 minutes the inner city will be cordoned off and in 30 minutes all the major airports, and transport nodes will be shut down as the authorities search for the Brennan’s who become fugitives on the run.

The Next 3 Days is divided up into 3 sections and the pace of the film increases as the daring escape plan unfolds and takes on fruition. Whilst Banks, seen in Zach and Miri Make a Porno is essentially a comic actress does a great turn as a convicted mother, but a more accomplished actress like Naomi Watts or Nicole Kidman would have added more severity to the psychological trauma of a mother, being incarcerated and kept away from her husband and son. Haggis makes John Brennan the pivotal character, a quiet and self-absorbed Literature professor beautifully played by Russell Crowe with the story focusing more on the escape plan, than the lingering question of Lara Brennan’s innocence only to be answered in the final scenes of the film. Haggis deftly opens up a universe of questionable morality and raises the issue of how far a person would go to free their loved one in a justice system which automatically assumes guilt over innocence.

In this morality, The Next Three Days is similar to the 1996 film, Before and After directed by Barbet Shroeder, who followed on from his success of the Oscar winning film Reversal of Fortune, featuring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons.

Claus von Bulow, I presume?

All films deal with families who are torn apart by a mother, son or father who has been accused of murder and the consequent questions of guilt and innocence which naturally surround such crimes. Crime and Punishment remain an enviable topic for any filmmaker especially in the context of the modern nuclear family. Paul Haggis does not leave any loose ends plot wise making his commercial directorial debut a thrill to watch.

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