You never quite know what you're going to get when sitting down to a new Russell Crowe film. Like him or (as most seemingly do) loathe him, his CV does contain a reasonable amount of diversity from the enjoyable cheesy 'historical' epics such as Gladiator, Master and Commander and Robin Hood to more measured dramas like A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, not to mention, a personal old favourite, long before Edward Norton made such films in vogue,his infamous breakout piece, Romper Stomper.
For his latest venture he's teamed up with Crash director and Bond rejuvenator, Paul Haggis, for the tense thriller, The Next Three Days. Based on the 2008 French film, Anything for Her, the film tells the story of a man who (Crowe) will go to great lengths to free his wife (Elizabeth Banks) from prison, after being convicted for a murder he, profusely, believes she didn't commit - despite the evidence being heavily stacked against her.
For lack of real exposure - during a frantic period of Oscar campaign from most studios - in the lead up to the film's release, I admittedly wasn't expecting a great deal, but was pleasantly surprised with the results. It combines elements seen in classic 'whodunit' capers such as The Fugitive and injects a modern grittiness seen in films like last year's brilliant Ben Affleck film, The Town and coming across slightly like a toned down companion to 2009's ridiculously flamboyant, Law Abiding Citizen.
Russell Crowe's portrayal of conflicted husband, John Brennan was a strangely fascinating one. You would be quite right in thinking he's an irrational loon, but he does it in such a sympathetic and humanistic way, it's hard not to feel for the position he's in. Unbeknownst to all his family and friends around him, he desperately plunges himself into the depths of the criminal underworld to know everything, he needs to know, about breaking out of prison. Elizabeth Banks meanwhile has come a long way from her days of making cameo appearances in Scrubs and glorified walk-on parts in the first three Spider-Man films, and all the better for it, a tremendously likable actress who keeps you guessing of her innocent right to the film's slightly sombre closing moments.
The most remarkable, and seemingly most undersold, element of the film was the oodles of quality and star-power littered in the supporting performances. Liam Neeson's role in the film, though limited to essentially one scene, was hugely significant to the story, as the street-wise ex-convict, turned author who had previously broken out of prison on numerous occasions. While 2011's hottest new leading lady, Olivia Wilde just added an extra level of gravitas and eye-candy to a character that would've been totally passable otherwise. Other honourable mentions include the excellent Lennie James - seen in last month's critically hailed and fanboy panned AMC drama, The Walking Dead, and most remembered by me, his role in Guy Ritchie's Snatch - as well as the often overlooked Brian Dennehy as Crowe's estranged but compassionate father.
Most impressively, Haggis did a tremendous job of instilling a degree of realism to such an outlandish plot. This wasn't the tale of a simple college lecturer who suddenly turned into a ruthless, prison breaking, schemer overnight, this was a world completely alien to what he previously knew and makes a lot of genuine mistakes along the way. Haggis also very regularly takes a break from the tense pace to remind the leading character of the rock and the hard place he so often finds himself in; be an attentive father to his socially troubled seven year old or trying to never give up hope on his incarcerated wife? Quite tragic in truth.
If I had to be overly critical, I would say the suggestive intensity of the film's title is grossly misleading, as the time scale of the film is a bit longer than one would assume. The film also lost some of its edge and emotional impact with a happier, 'Hollywood' ending than I would have imagined but nevertheless found myself being completely satisfied upon leaving the cinema.
The Next Three Days is as tense and gritty as it is emotional and humanly flawed. An extremely enjoyable thriller with terrific performances from Crowe, Banks, Neeson and co, which makes its hefty running-time not feel like an overly taxing one. Just don't be fooled kids, takes more than three days to plan a prison break, and this film knows it.
The Next Three Days is in cinemas now.