The Next Three Days (2010)

(spoilers ahead)

The Next Three Days is an odd movie with an intriguing concept that wastes a lot of its potential on the way. The story of John Brennan (Russell Crowe) who wants to break out his wife (Elizabeth Banks) from prison raises questions of plausibility, but they can be disregarded because you can’t argue too much with realism in a Hollywood movie. The movie’s problem lies more with its lack of focus and character development. It’s a case of too much and not enough. It’s mostly suspenseful and Russell Crowe does a really good job, but the movie leaves him hanging pretty often.

The movie raises two questions for me, one about vigilantism and one about the portrayal of women (yes, again!). Right at the beginning, Lara (Banks) and Erit (Moran Atias) have a weird conversation about gender issues. Erit argues that women can’t be good bosses because they always feel threatened or have to allude to their motherhood and so on. The scene is so weird because we don’t understand the basic conflict and there are so many gender issues thrown around without a clear focus, it is baffling. It’s not clear what the point of the scene is and it also doesn’t sound like an actual argument two women would have, which ends up with accusations about breasts and seduction. It doesn’t help that the scene is followed by a sex scene in a car between the married couple, which is necessary to show that their relationship is still so amazing that they do something like that. Which we need to believe the husband would really go all the way to try to free her later (because that only happens in a perfect family; how much more intriguing would that scenario be in a troubled marriage?). Anyway, what remains is a scene in which two women act like what rhymes with witch and the men are cool and actually enjoy it. The women are really mean to each other and we can’t help but get the impression that women are more spiteful and malevolent. It’s very odd and totally unnecessary.

We skip some years and see her life in prison. Lara was a business woman, tough and determined, but now she’s broken and without any will to fight. John is sad but never gives up. Sure, he is not in prison, but it’s quite shocking to see just how passive Lara is depicted for basically the rest of the movie. She doesn’t really get anything to do and Elizabeth Banks is really wasted here. She is rejected by her son (would it be the same with a daughter?) and attempts suicide. She even goes as far (that’s the way the movie shows it) to not trust her husband anymore, turning him into a tragic hero (and a suddenly very violent vigilante).

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When he gets Lara out eventually, she remains passive all the way. She does what he tells her, but is very reluctant and never seems thankful. We don’t know why, since it’s been made clear that she can’t deal with life in prison and even tried to end her life. So shouldn’t a break-out be a good option? When John says they can’t get their son because it’s too risky, Lara… well, basically attempts suicide again, letting herself fall out of a driving car on the highway, almost killing both of them (saved only by movie logic of not killing your stars for no reason). Why? I mean, the idea is that her son is all she is willing to live for, but her action is so reckless and stupid and it’s basically the only action she takes in the whole movie. So, overall, not a big win for active women here. She is basically the classic princess, just waiting to be saved, only more unwilling and suicidal than the common damsel.

I hadn’t really thought of the movie as a vigilante movie, but ever since I saw its classification on Wikipedia I wondered about it and what that means. I had a discussion in class recently about vigilantes and their popularity since the 70s (from Dirty Harry to Batman) and my point was that they are probably so popular because we have a buried distrust for our law system and they offer a solution to that. I share that distrust but think the offered solution is wrong, because it just replaces it with another authority. “I don’t like what they tell me is wrong or right, so I decide what’s wrong or right.” I like superheroes but the basic idea of one guy deciding who is bad and who is good is problematic. Now, The Next Three Days is of course a different kind of vigilante movie as our protagonist knows his wife is innocent, so he feels the need to break the rules to get her out of prison. Which is not really unreasonable as it is easier to imagine such a scenario than wanting to kill people out of revenge á la Charles Bronson. The problem for me with this movie is that it leaves the wife’s innocence in question until the very end to squeeze some suspense out of it. And, sure, there is some intrigue to the idea of him going all the way to get her out and then it turns out she’s guilty! But it feels false and forced and unsatisfactory since no one ever knows about her innocence. In a different movie this ambiguity might have worked because it certainly is more realistic, but in an implausible like this one it feels wrong (especially the hokey way this is shown at the end of the movie).

What is interesting about it, is that Brennan is not really a classical vigilante, but what he actually attempts is to step out of the society he lives in. He has to take his family out of the country, give up his job, leave his parents and sever any ties he might have left, with new identities in a new country. The movie doesn’t get into this very much and just shows the happy family in the end in Venezuela, but all the implications are there. They escape their society (well, not our society in general, really, but the confinements of American society) because society mistreated them. But if you look at the very last shots, there is something creeping in that might allude to fear and doubt about leaving this “security.” John Brennan takes a picture of his sleeping family, which brings an odd distance between them and him and the very last shot does not show him smiling or confident. He looks worried and insecure. It’s a strange way to end a movie that is all about the supposed determination of him getting exactly to this point. Is the movie doubting his decision because it is hard to imagine to escape our society? Because it means a life in fear for him? But, then again, the movie proves (through its contrived coincidence that brings Lara to prison) that living in that society means being scared too. You don’t know what the law does with you, what authority does with you, if your family is safe. I’m not trying to give the movie too much credit, but these are some interesting implications.