I’m the first person to pounce on a Hollywood remake if I find it wholly unnecessary, adding nothing to an already decent movie, but merely capitalising on the many viewers that – often out of just ignorance – can’t be bothered to watch good movies purely either because they aren’t in English, or they haven’t been made in the last 10 years. Occasionally, though, a title comes out which beats my expectations, and comes across as remarkably watchable in its own right. Sometimes this can easily be explained – a twist to the story, better performances or significantly improved production values (Tony Scott’s Man on Fire was a vast improvement over the original) – and sometimes it’s almost impossible to explain. I remember the nineties Alec Baldwin / Kim Basinger vehicle The Getaway, a remake of the underrated Sam Peckinpah film by the same name, which starred Steve McQueen and Ali Macgraw. Despite Peckinpah’s original being a very good movie, with great performances, I did quite enjoy the remake. It updated the setting, boasted an eclectic, broader cast (Michael Madsen’s psychotic antagonist raised the bar considerably) and proved to be never less than entertaining, despite the obvious similarities. Cut forward a decade and the French release a thriller called Pour Elle. It’s very good really, but not quite a classic, charting the lengths that a desperate husband goes to in order to free his wife after a murder conviction. I watched Pour Elle in anticipation of the Hollywood remake hitting the decks, previously unaware that The Next 3 Days was even a remake of anything, and was initially very dubious as to why Hollywood was churning out another star vehicle which was based on borrowed ideas that worked perfectly well the first time around. And, as predicted, less than a minute into the unusual opening sequence (mirrored from the French film) and I was wondering whether I was just going to be watching another shot-for-shot rehash (Let Me In), little better than an English-language dub of the original. But, by the end of the film, I have to say that I quite enjoyed the US version of this story. It’s really not bad at all.
The story is basically the same, only with different names and settings. John Brennan has just had his wife plucked right out of his life – arrested and subsequently convicted of murder. After fighting the case in court for three years, and losing appeal after appeal, John has to face the fact that he will never be able to get her out legally. He also knows that his wife is nearing breaking point, an attempted suicide highlighting just how close to the edge she is. Pooling all of his resources, and risking his own life to make the necessary arrangements, John puts together a plan to facilitate her escape. But he’s just a teacher, what chance does he stand at being able to break her out of prison?
The Next Three Days really shouldn’t work, but it does. I’m not saying that it’s a great film by any means, but then again even the original didn’t hit that mark, and the end result – in both cases – is a solid thriller.
Russell Crowe leads the way in this remake, taking on the kind of part that Harrison Ford might have gone for back in the day. He’s the perfect everyman hero, totally plausible as the distraught now-single father who has to juggle his job, his concerned family, and taking care of his young son, whilst – at the same time – trying to come up with a viable way to save his wife. And it’s lucky that he’s on good form, because he pretty-much carries the movie, providing the driving force throughout, and also marking one of the very few people who is simply unflinching in the belief of his wife’s innocence. Along the way he trades nods with an underused but extremely effective Brian Dennehy, evades Brit actor Lennie James’s persistent detective (who really makes the most of his supporting role), avoids flirting too much with Olivia Wilde’s striking single mother, takes all-too brief advice from Liam Neeson’s ex-con (in a totally pointless ‘famous-face’ cameo which surely wasn’t enough to justify his face on the back cover), and, all the while, tries his best to help Elizabeth Banks, suitably sans makeup, as his wife.
If Crowe is the one to hold it all together, he does so barely, just about keeping the totally implausible plot on the tracks whilst you gleefully suspend disbelief. I think it actually helped to have seen the French original, because I already knew how wildly out-of-hand things could get. Whilst they somehow all worked reasonably effectively in a gritty French setting, the US equivalent isn’t quite as convincing, but, if you already know what’s going to happen, you’ve already accepted that you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy it. Oddly, I think watching Pour Elle helps you accept The Next Three Days.
Unfortunately, for all the great ideas that were ‘borrowed’ (including the fantastic flash-forward opening credits), writer/director Paul Haggis was a little bit lazy in his duplication of the story – as noted above, some things just worked better in the French setting, and it was unwise to transplant them without thought. And in the few areas that were changed, some of the changes were for the better, but some were worse. Did we really need two sets of detectives rather than one? Did we really need that ridiculous CG car-spin? (What, did they have some budget left over, and just figured they blow it on one big, totally unnecessary effects sequence?) On the plus side, the development of the other girl character (Olivia Wilde) answered a niggling question from the original – what was the point of the girl in the park? And the minute plot twists that evolve over the final act are remarkably effective (not least in surprising those who, courtesy of the French predecessor, thought they knew exactly what was going to happen).
Haggis is the man behind Crash, his debut directorial effort, and a movie which has gone up and down in my esteem across the years since its auspicious release – some parts are undeniably great, others feel increasingly contrived on each successive viewing. Still, it was a great debut. He’s got a broader resume as a screenwriter, however, with plenty of great Eastwood titles under his belt, as well as the last two Bond entries. Unfortunately he also had some input on Terminator: Salvation. The Next Three Days marks his sophomore directorial effort, and he acquits himself well on the action front, really cranking up the tension for the movie’s final act. The trouble is, it’s the best part of ninety minutes before you get there. That means you get a whole movie’s worth of set-up and planning, before you even get to the thrills.
Personally, I quite enjoyed this recent US remake. It’s difficult to fully explain why – it really shouldn’t exist at all, as it has little merit beyond the French original. But it does still have some merit, and if you give it a chance, are prepared to suspend disbelief during some of the most incredulous contrivances imaginable, and are also prepared to endure the overlong plotting segment in order to get to the quality pay-off, you’ll likely find that this Russell Crowe vehicle is actually a worthy, solid and eminently watchable thriller.
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