By Paul Hansen

The Next Three Days is the latest prison escape film to emerge from Hollywood.   Although the movie is entertaining in and of itself, it is really just a variation on wrongfully accused,  jail break-out  films such as The Fugitive, US Marshals and Double Jeopardy.

Russell Crowe is the star of The Next Three Days.  He plays John Brennan, a man whose wife has been convicted of a murder that Brennan believes she did not commit. (There is some ambiguity throughout most of the movie as to whether or not she is in fact innocent.)  After all legal avenues  are exhausted,   Brennan plots an elaborate rescue of his wife from incarceration.   The title of the film is derived from a notice that she will be removed from her current prison within three days,  thus necessitating a much more hurried escape attempt.

Crowe is certainly an actor of intelligence and gravitas. He plays a rather self-contained professor at a community college, whose mild manner hides the fact that he is capable of great physical ingenuity.  In this respect he resembles another action hero, Indiana Jones, who was both an academic and a man of daring-do.   At one point in the film, Crowe lectures his class about Cervante’s Don Quixote, which is obviously meant to symbolize Crowe’s idealistic and seemingly hopeless quest to rescue his wife.

Elizabeth Banks is Lara, Brennan’s wife. Her portrayal and emotional energy create interesting  ambiguity as to whether she would be capable of murder. There is a certain explosiveness to Lara that might legitimately make a person wary of her.

The producers lined up impressive actors to play relatively small supporting roles.  Brian Dennehy is  Brennan’s laconic  father. Such is the strength of the relationship between father and son that they seem to communicate more by non-verbal cues.  Daniel Stern is an exasperated attorney who futilely tries to get Crowe to adapt to facts. Liam Neeson makes a cameo appearance as a prison escapee providing pointers to Brennan.

Although the basic structure of this story has been seen before, The Next Three Days is still worth viewing if you enjoy escape films. Crowe’s methods for rescuing his wife are sufficiently ingenious that the movie still intrigues and does not feel blatantly formulaic. Director Paul Haggis keeps the film moving at a tense pace, and there is some interesting photography of Pittsburgh, the locale of the plot.  The movie even captures something of the current zeitgeist of the country.  Much of the cinematography is grey and, as with Kafka’s The Trial or 1993’s The Fugitive, there is a general oppressive sense that the system is not working and an individual must rely on his own dexterity.

The Next Three Days rather bravely opened on the same weekend as the latest Harry Potter avalanche. The Crowe vehicle was fifth in revenue at the box-office last weekend, with what must be considered  a  somewhat disappointing weekend gross of  $6.7 million.  Perhaps business will pick up after  audiences  visit Hogwarts.