Thursday, 20 October 2011

Film Review: The Next Three Days

Title: The Next Three Days
Director: Paul Haggis
Rating: 12A
Runtime: 122 Minutes
The Next Three Days is the new film from Academy Award winning director and writer Paul Haggis. A man who has received considerable acclaim for his self-written and directed films, In the Valley of Elah and, of course, Crash, the bulk of whose work in Hollywood, adapting screenplays from other sources; from novels, to first person histories, and relatively unknown European films. The most celebrated of these adaptations having been in collaboration with Clint Eastwood, for whom he wrote his Iwo Jima duology and Million Dollar Baby.
However, this is the first time Haggis has directed a film he has adapted himself, and the film selected was a well-received debut feature by French director Fred Cavayé, about a man whose wife is convicted of murder and is driven to stage a gaol break due to lack of legal recourse. The original, entitled Pour Elle, is a comparatively small scale piece about a very ordinary man, a university tutor, driven by love and frustration to extraordinary acts.
In The Next Three Days it is plain, even from the film’s casting and trailer, that Haggis’ interpretation is far more brash and demonstrative than its more brooding progenitor. Where the vagaries of the aforementioned lead’s diligent, desperate scheming are merely used as devices to frame an intimate character study, Haggis has elected to cast Russell Crowe , an extremely bankable if talented actor, but whose forceful and tempestuous persona both on and off screen inherently undermine this quality.
Cavayé’s film suppresses the “thriller” element into its background, slowly fomenting empathy in its protagonist through an artful and languid character study, only then allowing superficial action to march to the forefront in its final act where investment and tension is already ensured. Haggis eschews this continental tonal shift in favour of a more expansive, conventional approach- foregrounding the escape attempt throughout the course of the film, doing so with polished craft ensuring an on-going rollercoaster of peaks and troughs building and releasing tensions throughout with only minor flaws in suspension of disbelief.
A common thread in Haggis’ films is the significance of “perspectives,” particularly demonstrated in the weaving character arcs of Crash, but also in his Iwo Jima films; and this concern with the fraught nature of the search for an absolute truth is likewise exhibited in the differences between The Next Three Days and Pour Elle. Haggis adds extra strands and depth to the narrative by expanding the role of the police and justice services, encouraging his audience to sympathise with their position and ponder the complexities of even the most unjust of occurrences.
All these alterations and variations culminate in what is, ultimately, a slick and enjoyable thriller composed by a man in possession of a wonderful understanding of the screenwriter’s craft, and of how to present a narrative for a mainstream audience without being facile. However, it is ultimately a far more superficial and less emotive piece than Pour Elle, and while it should provide an involving two hours at your local theatre, your time would be better invested in watching the superior French original.

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