Life seems perfect for John Brennan (Russell Crowe) until his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is arrested for a gruesome murder she says she didn't commit. With the rejection of their final appeal, Lara becomes suicidal and John decides there is only one possible, bearable solution: to break his wife out of prison. John devises an elaborate escape plot and plunges into a dangerous and unfamiliar world, ultimately risking everything for the woman he loves.
The first rule for any Hollywood studio that remakes a foreign language film ought to be to at least retain, if not improve, on the intelligence, spirit and flavour of the original.
Not just to satisfy audiences and critics who may see both versions and thus compare their respective merits, but to respect the original filmmakers’ vision and intentions.
The creative team involved in Lionsgate’s The Next Three Days, a redo of Fred Cavayé's 2008 French thriller Pour Elle / Anything for Her, flouted that rule at their peril. That’s both surprising and disappointing given the pedigree of the talent: Oscar-winning writer-director-producer Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks.
The result is a movie that’s longer (by a tedious and needless 37 minutes), more frenetic and melodramatic but less suspenseful, even less plausible and not as skillfully acted. Released in the US last November, the remake was a dismal flop, grossing $21.3 million, another dud for Rusty following Robin Hood (whose sizable foreign earnings only partly compensated for its meagre US receipts), State of Play and Body of Lies.
The core premise remains the same: English teacher gets so desperate when his wife is jailed for a murder she didn’t commit that he goes to extreme lengths to extricate her.
Far-fetched in the French film, it’s even more so in Haggis’ rendering of the tale. In the original, the teacher is a quiet, mild mannered, fundamentally decent fellow, a role perfectly suited to Vincent Lindon’s baggy eyes and hang-dog demeanour. Russell being Russell, his character John Brennan is more extroverted, with a sharper tongue.
Incarcerated in Pittsburgh for allegedly killing her boss, his wife Lara (Banks) laments the absence of conjugal rights, becomes estranged from their 6-year-old son Luke (Ty Simpkins), and attempts suicide. Banks looks de-glammed without make-up but nowhere near as haggard and despondent as her Gallic counterpart Diane Kruger.
After her final appeal is turned down, John seeks advice from a career prison escapee (a brief cameo from Liam Neeson, sporting a dodgy Brooklyn accent and an unexplained scar on one cheek) and is viciously mugged outside a seedy bar while trying to obtain fake passports, driver’s license and social security numbers.
Informed by Neeson’s character that he’ll need plenty of dosh, Brennan holds up a meth lab where he shoots dead one dealer in self-defence and leaves the body of another victim on a bench"¦ hardly the acts of a principled man, no matter his motives.
The climactic sequence is far longer than in the original but considerably less tense, and, as before, the cops and security people are similarly inept or tardy. Haggis puts Lara through one highly improbable sequence and other additions such as giving more screen time to the detectives; a new character, the mother of one of Luke’s friends; and a scene involving Brennan and a skeleton key, after which he vomits to show his inner turmoil, don’t enhance the narrative.
Wasted in a cameo as Brennan’s father, the estimable Brian Dennehy is mostly required to glower and look disapproving.
Crowe is far less convincing than Lindon, especially when the script has him asking, after he buys a gun, 'Show me where the bullets go." Is someone who’s that naive capable of defeating the entire Pittsburgh criminal justice system with a daring and logistically complex operation to free his beloved wife?
Apart from the script deficiencies, Haggis does a pedestrian job in directing his fourth feature following In the Valley of Elah, the Oscar-winning Crash and the little-seen 1993 Canadian drama Red Hot.
Comparisons are irrelevant, of course, for those who haven’t seen Pour Elle. But by any measure, Haggis’ film is a mediocre, plodding and uninspiring effort.