French melodrama has quite a lot to answer for, come the movie day of judgement. Too many frankly silly plots are pulled off with style and flair and originality – but it all goes horribly wrong when Hollywood has a bash at the remake.
Part of the problem here is that “Pour Elle” (“Anything For Her”) only came out in June 2009, which means I remember Diane Kruger’s taut control and Vincent Lindon’s ferocity on her behalf. The plot? A couple and their son lead an uneventful but happy and loving life, until the wife is arrested for murder. She goes to prison, for 20 years. He decides to get her out of there. That’s about it.
The original and the remake share a strong sense of a family pushed over the edge by the imprisonment. “The Next Three Days” is quite brave, by Hollywood standards, in asking questions about the effect on a small child of mummy serving a long prison term, with each appeal avenue exhausted. Reactions from the wider family are examined with aplomb, albeit superficially.
Russell Crowe is very good, although his accent drifts into Antipodean worryingly often, for a man who is allegedly Pittsburgh born and bred. He was on actor probation, for me, with his “Robin Hood” but exacted a fantastic amount of depth in his role as the washed-up policeman in “Tenderness”, which redeemed him.
Crowe is plausible here and each moment of his crossing over from conventional to criminal being is charted nicely, with attractive bits of business in how he deals with keys, money and written plans reflecting his deterioration and desperation. The weak part of the movie is Elizabeth Banks, who shone in “The Uninvited” and “W”, but seems out of her depth here. Hair becoming marginally less well-groomed does not reflect desperation. She simply does not have the intensity required for the role, which Diane Kruger had loads of. Her worst tempers do not invite you to reflect on her innocence or guilt. She simply makes you long to know where her blusher came from. It’s beautiful.
Ty Simpkins is winsome enough as youngster Luke and Olivia Wilde is terrific as Nicole. Why wasn’t she cast in the lead? She has the controlled edginess required by the role in great dollops.
Liam Neeson appears to be in a completely different picture and Crowe raises his game during their shared scenes. It’s a funny thing about Crowe. You get these performances of enormous brilliance – “Tenderness” – and then you get a clunker like Robin of Melbourne Forest. Or Bondi Beach, but, anyway, he is never from Pittsburgh. At least Banks’ accent is solid and credible.
Paul Haggis wrote “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash” but, sadly, fails to rein in Crowe. And the key to getting a great performance from Crowe is to control the fire.
Fred Cavaye controlled his big temperaments much better in “Pour Elle”. I want to love Haggis as he is Canadian and directed “Crash” well, but I fear managng the turmoil of the pressurised emotions required for this movies just slips away from him.
Brian Dennehy, Moran Atias, Helen Carey, RZA and Trudie Styler are among the many putting in memorable supporting roles, especially Dennehy who just gets better and better with each of the roles he selects as he ages. He shines in a fabulous ensemble.
Lionsgate and Hwy 61 have made fabulous films. Sadly, this is not one of them. But if you set you expectations to “melodrama” and enjoy the ride, you will find a great deal to admire here. It strays a few times, but sustains suspense.
Tha audience at the Stratford Picturehouse certainly enjoyed it and did not chat or text during the film.
If you are an opera lover, I also recommend the Picturehouse series of live operas from assorted venues. I saw Puccini’s California Gold Rush set “La Fanciulla del West” live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York and it was really magical. Deborah Voigt sings Minnie perfectly and Marcello Giordani and Lucio Gallo gave very moving performances. Apart from “Madama Butterfly”, it’s my favourite Puccini. It’s worth supporting this series.
I also won tickets to the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s Totem at the Royal Albert Hall. A big thank you to Karen Millen for an evening of extraordinary acrobats and my first viewing – apart from TV – of Montreal’s most famous export.
Yes, as some of you note, I am about 20 movies behind. I think we may all have to live with that. With “127 Hours”: a) I love Danny Boyle b) I don’t love this movie c) The action scenes and climbing are great d) You get a real sense of movement e)It is not my idea of a good movie to watch someone cutting his own arm off. Sorry, but I can be a little sqeamish at times.