Paul Haggis is fascinated with choices and dilemmas. He builds movies out of the idea that none of us know how we'll react when put in a stressful, dangerous or untenable position.
He did it repeatedly in the Oscar-winning Crash and again in In the Valley of Elah. And he does it again in The Next Three Days, a film adapted from a French thriller, in which Russell Crowe is cast as Mr. Mom - Extreme Makeover.
OK, so that's glib and cheap. In fact, Crowe, an actor whose masculinity in films rarely topples over into swaggering macho, plays a gentle soul: a college teacher named John. He's first glimpsed out to dinner with his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), his brother Mick (Michael Bule) and his sister-in-law Erin (Moran Atias). Indeed, he watches in amusement as his feisty wife slugs it out verbally with his bombshell sister-in-law.
John, by comparison, is quiet and bookish, the obvious front-line caregiver for their young son. Where his wife battles in the corporate trenches, John teaches English (and in his lone classroom scene, is shown lecturing on Don Quixote, which probably is a little on-the-nose).
Then, out of the blue, the police barge through their front door with search warrants and an arrest warrant for Lara. Before we know it, it's three years later, Lara is still in jail serving a life term for a murder of which she claims to be innocent - and John has exhausted all of his appeals.
Aghast at the injustice, eaten up by his helplessness to do anything for his wife - other than visit regularly with their increasingly remote son - John begins to formulate an idea. Then he does what any academic would do: He starts compiling research on that idea - which involves a notion of breaking Lara out of the county jail where she is being held.
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