A couple of years ago I saw Fred Cayave’s Pour Elle (released under the English title Anything For Her) and found it a perfectly acceptable, if rather generic, thriller. Pour Elle never came out in the US, likely because this remake was already under discussion. Behind this version is Paul Haggis, writer and director of the rampantly overpraised Best Picture winner Crash, and his sole achievement here is to make Pour Elle look like a much better film than it was in isolation.
In this version we have Russell Crowe as John Brennan, whose life is changed when his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested for and found guilty of the murder of her boss. Three years on Lara’s appeal fails, and John, his unwavering belief in Lara’s innocence intact despite seemingly overwhelming evidence, decides that he is going to have to break her out of prison so he can escape with his wife and their young son (Ty Simpkins)
For the bulk of its running time The Next Three Days is less remake than photocopy, following slavishly the template laid down by Cayave, replicating the original film not just line for line but often shot for shot. What Haggis brings is not vision but bloat. Where Pour Elle used one line, The Next Three Days has two, and that inflates what was a taut 90 odd minutes into a wheezing 133. Even the wholly new scenes do very little for the film, especially an extension of a storyline in which John starts to get to know a fellow single parent in the park (played by the incandescently beautiful Olivia Wilde) and a laboured Don Quixote metaphor, inserted via a few new scenes of Brennan doing his job as an English teacher.
When Haggis does appear to have a good idea it always ends up crashing down, becoming (in his trademark fashion) cheap and annoying rather than resonant and emotional. For instance, one of the big missteps in Pour Elle is the decision to, within the first half hour, reveal the truth behind the central crime. For a long time it seems as though The Next Three Days will leave the question of Lara’s guilt up in the air, which lends real power to one scene, in which she tells her husband he’s wrong to believe in her innocence. Sadly the film does eventually tell us what happened, through an incredibly cheap and corny device, retrospectively ruining one of the film’s few decent ideas. There is also a great emphasis placed on the idea of sacrifice, Haggis weaves it through the dialogue (in a heavy handed way, which is how he does everything) and come the big chase there is a moment this in which it seems that this thematic concern is about to have real consequences for John and Lara. This lasts about thirty seconds before Haggis apparently throws his hands in the air, says, ‘oh bollocks to it’ and utterly pussies out. I almost yelled at the screen.
One thing that did make Pour Elle stand out from every other generic thriller was the quality of its performances. Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger (respectively mid 40’s with a face like cracked leather and early 30’s with a delicate beauty that suggests a dancer or a model) made for an odd couple but they had fantastic on screen chemistry (helped, I would think, by the fact that, unlike in this film, the brief lovemaking scene that opens the film isn’t preceded by a dinner in which they appear to get on each other’s nerves) and give individually excellent performances. The same can’t be said of this film. Crowe seems ill at ease as Brennan. His American accent is solid enough, but there’s no real sense of that desperate love and need for his wife that should power the film. Elizabeth Banks comes off even worse, especially in comparison to Diane Kruger’s raw work in Pour Elle. Banks is blank and emotionless, and never helps the film convey the sense of lost family that it needs. The support comes from a strong selection of character actors, but they are given frustratingly little to do (witness Brian Dennehy’s six lines as Crowe’s father, or Daniel Stern’s brief scene as Lara’s lawyer). There is, however, a cameo worth savouring from Liam Neeson.
The Next Three Days isn’t so much a terrible film as it is an exercise in redundancy. There’s no reason for it to exist, all it does is add running time to a perfectly good thriller and in the process detract from all the things that made that film good to begin with. Skip this and rent Anything For Her instead.