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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 3:04 PM | Page modified November 18, 2010 at 5:01 PM

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Movie review

'The Next Three Days': A long wait for this movie's payoff

A review of "The Next Three Days," a family and prison-breakout drama starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'The Next Three Days,' with Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Brian Dennehy, Lennie James, Olivia Wilde, Ty Simpkins, Helen Carey, Liam Neeson. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, based on the French film "Pour Elle" by Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements. Several theaters.

There's a moment in "The Next Three Days" that we don't really see, and that leaves a hole in the movie from which it never quite recovers. In the early scenes, John Brennan (Russell Crowe) watches with horror as his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is hauled from their house by police, accused of murder. Three years go by, during which John raises their young son alone and urges their lawyer to file appeals. Finally, the attorney says, "It no longer matters what we believe. Lara is not getting out." In despair, Lara attempts suicide in prison, and John makes a crucial decision: he's going to bust her out.

Note that I haven't given away much here; this is all in the opening scenes of the movie, which is primarily about John's adventures on the wrong side of the law. But writer/director Paul Haggis (who based "The Next Three Days" on a French film, "Pour Elle") seems in a hurry to get past what's potentially the most interesting thing about the movie: an otherwise responsible, law-abiding, kind man's decision to cross a line, no matter the consequences. Obviously it's her suicide attempt that did it, but I still spent much of the movie questioning whether this character — who, admittedly, we don't know much about — would really have done this. And once you start questioning that, things tend to fizzle a bit.

Crowe and Banks actually make "The Next Three Days" work better than it deserves to; its pacing is off, and things don't really get moving until the final, electric half-hour or so. Prior to that, much time is spent watching John learning various prison break-in techniques off the Internet (including something on YouTube involving a tennis ball that seems potentially useful), and Lara sitting sadly and unblondly in prison while their child refuses to talk to her, because he misses her too much.

Banks — who's so funny on "30 Rock" these days you forget she has a dramatic side — eloquently and economically sketches Lara's misery in mostly brief scenes. Crowe, showing us bits and pieces of the charming, happy husband John once was, lets us ache for his character as well, even when we don't entirely understand his actions. One near-silent scene, as John says goodbye to his parents and they all realize that they may never see each other again, is beautifully done; a moment of tragic calm in this onward rush of a movie. "The Next Three Days" finally finds its pace toward the end, but it's a little too late.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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