The Next Three Days

I can’t remember when I was rooting for the bad guys this unabashedly.  Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, a loving man with a beautiful wife, Laura (Elizabeth Banks), and a handsome son, Luke (Ty Simpkins).  As a family, they’re the typically busy-but-happy successful suburbanites:  he’s a professor (the students are discussing “Don Quixote” in his classroom), and she has some high-powered corporate job which keeps her challenged and frazzled, but for the most part, satisfied.  There’s an awkward moment at a restaurant with John’s younger brother, when his girlfriend insists that women can’t work for other women because they’re too competitive, and Laura takes offense because it’s her (female) boss she’s been having trouble with, but little does she know that it only goes downhill from here.
The next morning feels like a routine day, but suddenly the cops are swarming all over the house, and arresting people, and taking things as evidence, and the viewers don’t have any more idea what’s going on than the characters.
Actually, it’s never explained very well, but somehow Laura’s boss met an untimely end in the parking lot right outside the very restaurant where Laura was late for dinner, and the circumstantial evidence is strong against her:  so strong, in fact, that she is actually convicted of murder.
Incredulous, John makes it his personal mission to correct the travesty in the justice system, and free his wife. (Now it starts to feel like “Conviction,” which is a true story, about a sister who never believed that her brother had committed murder, either.)  Except here, all the legal roads lead nowhere.  John is out of money, and out of options; at least ones that are within the law.  So then he starts thinking about just taking the law into his own hands, and breaking her out of prison.
At one level, it requires a fairly strong suspension of disbelief to even think that’s possible.  At another level, we find ourselves rooting for the guy who’s planning the jailbreak----and we’re not even sure she’s innocent in the first place.  At one point, she even suggests to him that she is guilty, but we wonder if that’s only to try to ease him out of his obsession with freeing her, if it will only bring more heartbreak, expense, preoccupation, and spending all that psychic energy in a losing cause.  But he never stops believing in her.  Nor does he ever stop believing that he can pull this off, somehow:  even if he has to step outside himself to accomplish it.
There’s a perfect little scene with Liam Neeson, who plays a minor but memorable character named Damon.  Damon assures our un-caped crusader that he’s going to have to learn more about prison systems that he cared to know, he’s going to have to be willing to spend money he doesn’t think he has, and he’s going to need to be willing to pull a loaded gun on someone, and to use it, if necessary.  Is he really willing to become that person?
Yes, it’s kind of a descent into Hell for our erstwhile mild-mannered professor.  But Russell Crowe is very believable in this role.  And we find ourselves rooting for him to succeed, knowing full well that the full force of the law is against him, and we usually consider ourselves law-abiding citizens.  This creates a delicious tension in the viewer which is added to the suspense of the screenplay itself, and the result is a real achievement in this “action/drama”:  we care about the characters. 
Sure, it’s intense.  And morally ambivalent.  And there’s lots they don’t tell you (which frustrates those who are irritated by incomplete information).  But just try seeing “The Next Three Days” without being drawn into its sticky, feathery web of intrigue.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas