THE NEXT THREE DAYS and the sentimental thriller

I saw THE NEXT THREE DAYS over Thanksgiving (Hello, Atlanta! What a welcome sight you are from the wilds of Ohio), and it was a crazy ride – I hesitate to say fun, because it’s really not – but exciting, thought-provoking, a serious film with serious performances, yet wrapped in the gloss of genre-Holiday-big-budget-excitement? Yes! I would also deem it falls into a new category, one I welcome: the sentimental thriller.

This thriller of tears is not for the under 35-set. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is a community college English teacher, and that very element is our first cue that a particular age group won’t, er, get it. (“What a loser…community college?” I can hear those naïve 29 year-olds now. For us, over, um 37, we know what it means to compromise a dream, so bring it on, brother, let me wallow in the reality of teaching at a community college. It means something very specific … as in, something on the academic career path most likely went awry. There’s nothing wrong with community college! But it reeks of good, honest, this’ll-have-to-do life compromise.) Luckily, his beautiful wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) has that expensive-wardrobe office job to help with those Prius payments… oh wait, oh no – she’s suspected and convicted of … killing her boss! Crap. Now what?

The rest of the movie, as you probably know, plays out as John attempts to bust her out of prison. What is not accounted for, however, in the advertising/trailer/general presentation to the world, is the absolute river of emotion running underneath the material. David Denby, in The New Yorker, is confounded. He doesn’t know what to do with this “caper without play or wit, a caper with real, suffering people in it, and a contradiction from beginning to end.” But I loved this contrast. The engagement with the hard, cold realities of marriage, parenting, financial woes – these paid off more than anything clever possibly could. (In the bathroom after, the advanced teen next to me: “I just wish there was one final twist!”) In this case, writer/director Paul Haggis instead leaves you imagining what really might happen to these people beyond the movie. And that, occasional reader, is a strange experience indeed, to be inside the gloss of genre-Holiday-big-budget-excitement but contemplating real lives. Bravo! And bravo to Paul, who I have to say authored the most unfortunate film, CRASH. (The Academy and I disagree on this one, and my students also cannot relate to this antipathy, but I remain true.) Bravo to Paul for reigning in the Clydesdales here, providing a light(er) and certainly unique touch to a very old genre.

View the trailer here: