In the wake of Paul Haggis’s highly successful ensemble drama “Crash,” the sincerity of his artistic vision has constantly come into question. Though his 2004 Oscar-winning examination of racial tensions in Los Angeles earned him dozens of awards and widespread critical acclaim, Haggis also drew significant criticism from skeptics who viewed the film as an overly simplistic portrayal of an infinitely complex problem.
“The Next Three Days”
At Quality 16 and Rave
It would seem that in light of this criticism, Haggis errs on the side of safety with “The Next Three Days.” The remake of the 2007 French thriller “Pour Elle” avoids all of the controversial themes and bold risks of its predecessor, and it resembles something in the way of “Taken.” It’s popcorn entertainment, but damn good, considering how little it invests in its characters and plot.
The premise is simple, but rarely explored: A young woman (Elizabeth Banks, “Definitely, Maybe”) is accused of the murder of her boss, but her professor husband (Russell Crowe, “Robin Hood”) is convinced of her innocence despite the considerable evidence implicating her. He orchestrates an intricate plan to aid her escape from prison, and the hitches in his scheme provide for plenty of viewer tension.
Haggis proves adept at writing and directing a film that’s well outside his comfort zone. It’s also refreshing to finally see Crowe in a present-day role, one in which we aren’t expected to bow and kiss the epic ground upon which his sandaled feet have trod; it all rests on pure chops here. He truly is one of the greatest actors in the world, and — though it may be a small drop in the vast ocean of his extensive filmography — this film further advances that reputation.
There are holes in the plot, to be sure, but film’s dominance in the realm of entertainment is owed in large part to its lack of realism. Its purpose is to realize the impossible, and Haggis has used that to his advantage. There’s a hospital kidnapping, a subway chase, crime classes via YouTube, a random meth lab and an elusive coat button, all essential facets of a script that’s unrelentingly proactive and leaves no stone unturned.
But even in its constant motion and its distinctiveness, “The Next Three Days” bears some of the traits that made “Crash” so loved (and hated) by its critics: It reveals subtle, yet valuable truths about the nature of love, of tragedy and of human resilience.