72 Hours

Never mind 127 hours, this film does it in 72. Actually, it doesn’t. Most of the action in The Next Three Days – whose underwhelmingly generic title seems almost designed to induce indifference and prevent you from going in to see it – actually takes place before the three days in question, but hey. (It’s funny to hear people asking at the box office for “a ticket for the next three days, please.”) It’s the fast-turnaround Hollywood remake of a well-liked French directorial debut from 2008, Anything For Her or Pour elle, which is a better title either way. I didn’t see it, but I know it was about an ordinary, mild-mannered geography teacher who has to break his wife out of prison after she is wrongly convicted of murder. The American remake, written and directed by Paul Haggis, seems to be pretty much identical. Except Russell Crowe is an ordinary, mild-mannered English teacher, which gives him the opportunity to be shown teaching a class about Don Quixote and Haggis the opportunity to make some comparison between what he has to do and what Cervantes’ hero had to do, although to be honest, I’ve forgotten what profound thing this was.

It’s a pretty good thriller, actually, the sort that would work just as well when it turns up on telly, and which strives for Hitchcockian, as they all do, and never quite gets there. I haven’t seen the original, so I’ll take it on trust that it’s virtually identical, because I’ve read that it is; except it’s about 30 minutes longer. Why? What has Haggis added, or stretched out? I don’t know. But it seems a little self-indulgent, or flabby, to fail to wrap up the same film in roughly the same running time. Maybe the big stars like to be on screen for longer? Maybe a 122-minute film feels more important than a 96-minute one?

I have no problem with Russell Crowe. I didn’t like him in Robin Hood, but I’m generally happy to see his craggy, weatherbeaten features on the front of a leading man in general. He’s a big, Gary Cooper/John Wayne/Spencer Tracy beast, except with enough James Stewart everyman to carry off roles that exist beneath or outside the bluster of action man heroics, such as The Insider, or A Beautiful Mind. Here, he’s a James Stewart who has to find his inner Gary Cooper, and he manages both, notwithstanding his beefed-up bulk, which doesn’t exactly scream English teacher. At least he keeps his jacket on throughout. He can be a very quiet actor, which I like. Tom Cruise, who I like for different reasons, would struggle to convince as an English teacher. (And that’s a compliment to English teachers.) Anyway, I went to see The Next Three Days with virtually no foreknowledge of the plot, or even who was in it. So it was, for me, a pleasant surprise to find Elizabeth Banks as Crowe’s banged-up wife, Liam Neeson in a single-scene cameo as an old lag, our own Lennie James as the detective (he’s an honorary American now, as so many British actors are), and Brian Dennehy, House‘s Olivia Wilde and Daniel Stern in tiny parts, too. All this decent casting gives a thriller an edge, for me. No matter how unlikely the plot is. (Hey, I enjoyed the first two seasons of Prison Break – I don’t need it to be a documentary.)

All credit to Fred Cavayé, who wrote the French original: the essentially preposterous prison breakout plot unfolds with enough inconvenient setbacks to counter its convenient jackpots, and you won’t see Crowe’s Neeson-predicted Eureka moment coming (unless you saw the original, in which case, you will see it coming). No more plot details. Don’t want to spoil your fun. Paul Haggis is a capable action director, although is that really what he’s for? There’s a lot of air blowing through this one compared to the issue-heavy films he’s directed previously (Crash: racism comes in many forms; In The Valley Of Elah: war, what is it good for? + you can’t trust the US military to solve its own crimes). I guess we shouldn’t complain about that. It’s a functioning thriller, not a polemic. Also, some dislike Haggis’s finger-wagging. There is none of that here, just Russell Crowe running, driving, writing things on a map, trying not to get beaten to a pulp by Pittsburgh’s shady underworld characters while he attempts to buy false passports and successfully keeping his young son onside until those “next three days” kick in.

Unlike 127 Hours, I do not urge you to go and see it. I like to save up my urging. Although I enjoyed it.

11 thoughts on “72 Hours

  1. I haven’t seen The Next Three Days, though I have seen the original, Pour elle, which is absolutely fantastic. It’s a shame you didn’t see it first. I’d still recommend it, but if Haggis followed the story closely there won’t be any surprises, obviously. The two main leads, Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger, are just perfect though.

    I don’t have any plans to see the remake, entirely due to Russell Crowe. I thought he was great in Romper Stomper and 3:10 To Yuma, but aside from those two roles he hasn’t impressed me at all (last year’s Robin Hood really didn’t help either as, Cate Blanchett and Max von Sydow aside, that was all kinds of awfulness, Crowe’s UK-wide travelling accent especially!) My opinion of him has been coloured by his off-screen antics though, I’m sure. The guy is just a dick! It’s a shame though as I do like Elizabeth Banks, so would love to see how she manages in a completely serious role. I may catch it once it’s available for home viewing. Just need to steer clear of Crowe movies in the meantime to build up a tolerance, I think!

  2. Re asking for ‘a ticket for three days’….
    Not that the situation would be likely to arise, but what sort of intonation would be required to ask ‘have you got the new album by Therapy??’ or ‘the new single by Wham!?’
    As for Russell Crowe, I’m sort of with the chap above, given his off-screen behaviour (Crowe’s, not the chap above’s). It’s a bit lame, really, my stance, given what we all know about media constructions and also given that we ought to be able to separate the art and the maker, no matter what Tom Paulin might say. Mark E Smith, for instance, utterly impossible man to spend time with, but the music at times is surely insightful as heck.

  3. Is Russell Crowe supposed to be handsome? He is often listed in Top 100 sexiest men lists but he just looks like the kind of guy you would see in the corner of the pub who has just come back from a hard days plastering.

    Ladies help me out here.

  4. “Ladies help me out here,” is the kind of thing I imagine Russell Crowe saying. Maybe I’m grossly misjudging him, but he just makes my flesh crawl. And I haven’t even seen any of his films.

    • I’m just glad you didn’t call me “sugartits”. Twice in one day would’ve been just too much to bear.

      As for Crowe being sexy, as you said, a lot of women seem to think so, even though he is quite craggy. Basically, if he wasn’t famous he probably wouldn’t be looked at twice. It’s what scientists have recently dubbed “The Mick Hucknall Effect”.

  5. Is this an okay place to respond to the pod? I had a sinking feeling when Richard was going on about his loser life before social networking since I was at that very moment lying on my bed in my shabby room playing Civilzation II. Fortunately some of my absurdly small circle of friends must have somehow felt my shame and invited me out to see 127 hours…given how gruelling everybody says it is I probably would have stayed in and played Civ II but obviously I can’t now 🙂

  6. Apologies for being almost entirely unrelated to this blog, but since I tend to agree with most of your film surmisions (I too was underwhelmed and frustrated with the overhyped Inception – as was my mum, dad and husband), any chance of a review on Catfish? I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

  7. I didn’t take to Inception either, in fact I gave up after 45 minutes or so. For a start I just kept thinking Shutter Island which was a film that really irritated me. There’s been so many psychological thrillers over the years that the twist didn’t feel particularly meaningful or interesting and the journey to get there wasn’t up to much either. There’s also the problem I have with suspending disbelief when it comes to DiCaprio. All I can see is the weirdly boyish Leonardo trying to be whatever character he’s playing. I just can’t get past it.

    So all that took away from my enjoyment of Inception. Elaborately construced plots can be found and even enjoyed in any number of B movies, special effects are everywhere. I just couldn’t be bothered to find out how the film resolved itself.

    127 Hours, on the hand, I enjoyed. I found the final sequences moving, I thought the central performance was great and the funky editing mostly worked. Glad I went. I don’t whether it was the way it was projected or shot or something but when the camera panned out for the big scenic shots they were a bit underwhelming. They seemed flat or lacking detail or something. Anyway, it hardly spoiled the film. Thanks Herring for inadvertently shaming me into going. 🙂

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