What begins as an average weekday morning for John Brennan (Russell Crowe) suddenly changes dramatically when police officers burst into his house and arrest his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks). Accused of murdering her boss, Lara's trial and subsequent appeals go quickly against her and it becomes apparent that she will spend the next 25 years in jail. This is too much for John, a community college professor, to handle and as his desperation sinks in, he begins to plot a jail break. He speaks with Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), a prison break expert of sorts who puts John on the "right" track. During his visits to see Lara at the county jail, John begins formulating his plan with extreme caution until his hand is forced by the news that his wife will be moved to a larger facility in only three days time.
"The Next Three Days" is half a great movie. The twists and turns that take place throughout the final act are exciting and tense and the fact that most of the action is done through the use of good old fashioned stunts rather than CGI is a plus in my book. The ideas that John comes up, both to execute his plan and to avoid being caught afterward, are often fresh and unique which is always a tricky task to pull off in a prison break film. And I really enjoyed the fact that the question of whether or not Lara is guilty doesn't get settled until late into the film. That last aspect creates a very different atmosphere from the traditional prison break narrative because it asks the audience to trust that the hero, John, is correct in believing that his wife is innocent when all the evidence says otherwise.
The other half of "The Next Three Days", however, would have trouble getting ratings on a Sunday night during the summer. The "keep the audience guessing" motto is taken far too seriously in the early going as the movie jumps from scene to scene, creating a horribly choppy experience that begs for editing. There is no flow to the first two acts and I actually had to rewind twice to properly put together what had just happened. "Days" plays out like a film that was cut down to fit a 100 minute runtime yet it stretches on and on for well over two hours. It is also surprisingly boring in places. I think writer/director Paul Haggis tried to make this film an homage to the slow-but-intense thrillers of the 60s and 70s but instead it just plays out like a bit of a knockoff, at least through the first two acts. Beyond the choppy story telling, the real culprit for this dullness is the absolute lack of compelling characters. Both of the Brennans, their child, John's parents, the cops, the lady that John becomes friends with, etc. are robotic, dreadfully boring people that I didn't care about one bit. In truth, there are no characters in "The Next Three Days", only character types, robotic roles in the story that never really touch on humanism. Only Liam Neeson's career criminal has any sort of depth and he's in the movie for five minutes.
Basically, Haggis puts the final dynamic act and some genuinely well-thought-out concepts up against a poorly edited story and characters that are fundamentally disconnected from the audience and hopes you won't notice the holes. Immediately after seeing "Three Days" I was fairly positive about the finished product because I really did enjoy the final 30 minutes. But the more I thought about it and the further out from my viewing that I got, the more the holes bothered me. It's a frustrating movie, really, because I can't stand when good concepts are wasted on films that don't warrant them. If you come across "The Next Three Days" on HBO and can skip directly to the final 30 minutes, it's worth a viewing, but otherwise I can't say that I'd ever want to see this film again.