Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a series of posts highlighting those movies that were overlooked, underappreciated, ignored, misunderstood, and unfairly maligned on first go-round. As an attorney, I see injustices in the world that need to be righted on a daily basis. Okay, maybe not. But, I've certainly had experience defending people and/or things from others who are out to tear them down. Some movies deserve a bad reputation. Others don't. These posts concern the latter. Let's get to it.
The first candidate I'd like to spotlight, having just recently seen it on DVD, is the Russell Crowe flop, The Next Three Days. It says a lot about the industry perception of a movie when even yours truly didn't go see it in the theater. If you'll recall, this opened the same weekend as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I back in November 2010. Now, any moviegoer worth his/her salt will go see Harry Potter over anything else 10 times out of 10. That's a given. But I was surprised to see Lionsgate's (the studio releasing The Next Three Days) counter-programming efforts go so wasted.
The Next Three Days was critically ignored and wholly rejected upon its release, making less than $7 million in its opening weekend. Rough stuff. And certainly not a figure befitting a bona fide movie star like Crowe. When a big movie like this comes out and tanks, it creates a perception in audiences that the movie sucks. If nobody else saw it, why should you? I know I've fallen victim to the opposite end of the spectrum: if a movie is No. 1 at the box office, I feel like I need to go just to see what all the fuss is about.
So, it is with that heavy baggage that I added The Next Three Days to my Netflix queue and reluctantly watched it on DVD. Let me tell you - America got it wrong. This is a great movie. It is an entertaining movie - a thoughtful thriller that pins you to the edge of your seat and keeps you there for its entire running time. A lot of films make that claim - this one actually delivers on it.
Paul Haggis wrote and directed the film, and it's based on a French film called "Pour Elle." Haggis gets a lot of shit as a director. Winning the '05 Best Picture Oscar for Crash against arguably more deserving films like Brokeback Mountain made him public enemy no. 1 in a lot of people's eyes. I admit to caving to popular sentiment in that regard. I loved Crash when it came out, but nowadays, after the backlash has fully reared its ugly head, I feel somehow programmed to think that Crash is junk. Bullocks. Crash is a very good film. The Next Three Days is even better.
Crowe plays John Brennan, a married, mild-mannered professor, and father of one. When his wife Lara (played by Elizabeth Banks, way against type) is arrested and convicted of murdering her boss, John patiently waits out the appeals process, even though it kills him that his family is being torn apart by the system. Cut to three years later, Lara's appeal is denied and she faces prison for life. After an ill-fated suicide attempt by Lara, John decides to do the impossible: break her out of prison and make a run for it so they can all live together as a family.
John enlists the help of a veteran escapee (Liam Neeson, in a brief but important cameo) and starts plotting the intricate break-out. From there, the tension really ratchets up as John gets in over his head and engages in a series of morally questionable tactics. All along, the viewer is left wondering if Lara really did commit the crime - a brilliant move by Haggis. We're not sure whether to root for John or the cops that are always one step behind him. Haggis keeps this ambiguity up until the end, leaving the viewer with a satisfying, if too tidy, resolution.
If I could liken the film to anything, it'd be 1993's The Fugitive. The Next Three Days is suspenseful and action-packed in the same way, and the story similarly revolves around a man trying desperately to avoid injustice by taking matters into his own hands. It may not be as good as that Harrison Ford classic - it lacks an antagonist as good as Tommy Lee Jones - but The Next Three Days is an intelligent, exciting film that deserves more attention. It's not too late - let's give this one a second life on DVD.