They’re back. Those TV adverts for films which have normal people raving about how much they enjoyed the film playing behind them. For a moment, I thought they’d gone, a bygone marketing tool consigned to the scrap heap. What do we need real people for nowadays? We’ve got computers and stuff.
Turn on the TV, though, wait a while, and you might just catch one advertising The Next Three Days. It’s filled with the usual people. Smiley, happy people. Shouldn’t you be worried about VAT and jobs and potholes, like the rest of us? I guess not. You’ve got films to watch, cameras to talk to.
They’re kind of frustrating, like reading an old Paul Ross review when every new week would herald the arrival of “My new favourite action movie of all time!”. Come on, that’s just lazy. You must have watched a different Passenger 57.
The thing about this latest advert, however, is that it’s scarily on the money. The Next Three Days is just a good as those pod people proclaim. There are a few too many clichés tossed around (I don’t think anyone is ever “on the edge of” their seat during a thriller, although “it had me leaning forward slightly” doesn’t have quite the same punch), but that’s okay. They’re a good fit here.
It’s a far more commercial and mainstream film than Paul Haggis’ last venture as director, In The Valley Of Elah, and the first few minutes have the feel of a standard Hollywood thriller: let’s set up a loving couple, an idyllic home life, then shatter it because we need to get going. Russell Crowe loves his wife, she loves him, but did she really murder that poor woman? Not selling it so far, am I? No wonder I’m never picked for those TV adverts.
The Next Three Days pretty much leads up to one big event, Crowe breaking his wife out of jail. What Haggis does brilliantly is make the setup just as interesting and dramatic as the break-out itself. Which is a good thing, because it’s the former that takes up much of the film’s running time, and it gives Crowe ample space to shed all traces of his movie star persona.
It was there in full force in Ridley Scott’s good, but kind of inhibited Robin Hood. Crowe seemed so committed to adding a physical presence and fresh take to an iconic character that he forgot, or didn’t have time, to add any humanity. Maybe he was saving it all up for here.
State Of Play showed that he could turn the star wattage down and play hangdog. I still remember that great scene where he’s in the apartment block, a bad guy round the corner, and he turns to jelly. Panic overcomes him. For that moment he wasn’t Maximus or an actor who threw a phone at someone. He was a normal guy fearing for his life.
In The Next Three Days he does it even better, and Haggis cranks up the pressure so much that the film genuinely becomes what few mainstream thrillers are: unpredictable. It may lack the weighty heft of Elah, but mainstream Haggis is anything but cheery endings and good men saving the day.
There are laughs dotted plentifully around. One, following the film’s special effect blow-out, is a perfectly timed raised hand by Crowe. Yet the film goes to some dark places, and doesn’t always come back from them.
If anything, it’s when the movie shifts up a gear into the final third, and that break-out, that it becomes a little strained. Haggis has to rely on some overly-familiar genre tropes, like an FBI man shouting things down a phone as he does them – ‘I‘m running down some stairs! I’m near a subway.’- or a too clever for his own good policeman and his slightly disbelieving partner (although he may have come up with that in Due South, so let’s forgive him that one).
It pulls it back for a nice (for Haggis read dark) climax, and actually makes good use of a Moby song before that. It also brings Brian Dennehy back to the big screen, giving him an emotional humdinger of a scene with just a few words.
Don’t let those adverts put you off. The Next Three Days is far better than its advertising campaign.
The Next Three Days is in UK cinemas from today, January 5th.
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