a Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro
saw THE NEXT THREE DAYS, the thriller with Russell Crowe as a community-college professor whose wife has been convicted of a murder she didn’t commit, who spends three years planning a way to break her out, so they can flee the country and resume their lives elsewhere.
This one has an undeserved rep as a real loser, in part because the Crowe character is not an action hero, and still pulls off feats of criminal planning a mastermind would envy…and also because it’s not the action film many viewers were hoping for, and is instead for most of its length just a dark drama about an obsessed man who is willing to destroy his entire life just to reverse the injustice that fractured his family.
In truth, it’s better than its rep, well-performed by Crowe and well-conceived in its staging of his obsession. Even the escape itself is a nicely-staged caper.
Once upon a time this would have been a great, tragic film.
You see, the course of the film is set by the Crowe character’s monomania. By the time the escape even begins, he has committed his own crimes beyond redemption (the murder of two drug dealers), in order to fund his family’s new life in South America.
That should be the very point.
And there is a moment during the climax where, once upon a time, the story would have ended and a better film would have resulted.
To wit: a critical error endangers the fleeing couple’s chances of retrieving their young pre-school son. They have successfully driven past the dragnet and are well on their way to leaving the country, but they cannot turn around without re-entering the territory now crawling with police.
Crowe’s character tells his wife, WE CAN’T GET HIM, he’ll end up with my parents, we’ll have to figure out some way to get him later. His wife freaks. In a maternal panic, she tries to leave the car moving at high speed, there is a near crash, and the two are left sitting by the car at the side of the highway, silently coming to the agreement that their escape has failed.
IN THE MOVIE, they turn around, race to the zoo where the kid has been unexpectedly taken for the birthday party he’s been left at, get the kid, and after a few more inconsequential adventures successfully evade the authorities and flee the country.
A GREAT film, of the sort that no studio would dare release now, would have ended with the couple at the side of the road, grimly aware that they had to turn back, and almost certainly get captured.
This is the way the film would have ended in the thirties, in the forties, and in the seventies: with the hero, now wanted for the murders that (unlike his wife’s), he actually DID commit, having tragically damned himself out of love. Instead, all worldly concerns are abandoned, the sins Crowe’s character has committed to free his innocent wife are forgiven, and the couple is able to settle to a happy middle class lifestyle in a country without an extradition treaty, sans consequences.
Tragic endings may be considered box office poison, with reason, but audiences used to be able to take them; we used to be able to understand and process the moral heft of them. And the movies used to be better. Alas, the premise that all movies need to end with the protagonists enjoying absolute victory has rendered them flatter as drama and less memorable as stories.