Film Reviews


By • Nov 19th, 2010 •

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Haggis stages an emotional, tense ride.

Mild-manner community college English teacher John (Russell Crowe) is madly in love with his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks). They have a young son, Luke (Ty Simpkins). Lara has a female bitch for a boss. One evening, after a fiery office fight, the boss is murdered. Lara’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon and there is blood on her coat. She is arrested and found guilty. The case may be closed but there is the lengthy appeals process. So, instead of being sent to prison to serve her 20-year sentence while her lawyer files appeals, she is kept in a local jail.


John visits Lara religiously but their son remains depressed and refuses to even kiss his mother during forced visits. Lara is so strange. She does not seem so upset about being incarcerated. She doesn’t once protest her innocence. She spends visiting time talking about convict fashion and Dancing With the Stars.

I thought all prisoners loudly proclaimed their innocence. Even Ted Bundy denied being a serial killer. When all the appeals fail and Lara is headed for “the big house,” the only option left for John is to spring her from jail.

John has three years to dedicate to his plan. He pays for some tips in jailhouse breaks by interviewing a man (Liam Neeson) who escaped seven times and then became a best-selling author on prison breaks.

John has the time but not the money for the fake documents and passports he needs. He decides to use street thugs and gets robbed and beaten. Undeterred, and without any support from clueless Lara, John plots every moment of his daring, harebrained plan.

Then there is the formulaic “clicking clock”. John has three days before Lara is transferred to a maximum prison.

Incredibly, the Pittsburgh police are superior sleuths on top of John’s every move. Always being 30 seconds behind John keeps the action fast and engrossing.

As screenwriter, Paul Haggis focuses on his star. Elizabeth Banks is left on her own, and her character is not in the least bit believable. Innocent or guilty, who behaves like Lara?

As director, Haggis has the impressive ability to give the film a tone of despair. He guides Crowe – rumored to be impossible to direct – to a mellow, downtrodden performance. With GLADIATOR a galaxy memory away, Crowe’s blue-collar physicality plays well here.

Do all movie stars of Crowe’s stature require a beautiful woman to lust after them? Improbably, John has a gorgeous playground admirer, Nicole, played by Olivia Wilde.

But why, oh why, during a tense moment hunted by SWAT Team, do John and Lara stop and kiss? Haggis knows better than to pull this trite moment on the audience who is with John all the way.

If I am ever in a prison break, a tornado, or a tsunami, I have already informed my husband he better not stop and try to kiss me.

While the ending may have been sanctioned by Hollywood focus groups, I would have preferred to leave the theater hotly questioning whether or not Lara did the dirty deed.

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