Thoughts on “The Next Three Days” (2010)

This is my first movie “review,” so go easy.

I don’t think The Next Three Days was out-of-the-park amazing, but it raised some interesting questions (those that challenge the mainstream mentality of man’s total control and power and foresight). The story is about a man (Russell Crowe, who has a terrible Wiki picture) who is set on breaking his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail (not breaking his wife –> they actually love each other).

He goes and talks to a convict who broke out of jail 7 times (Liam Neeson), and the advice he receives is that it requires a lot of work, dedication (being willing to do things normal people wouldn’t want to do, like pushing an old lady in the way), and luck.

SPOILER: Our protagonist is ultimately successful, and, hey, I like happy endings like anybody else, but I appreciated how the success was portrayed. It wasn’t portrayed like those perfect Hollywood climax cut-scenes, wherein super-smart, nigh-omniscient mastermind good-guys (or “bad”-guys, like Ocean’s 11-13) nary make a mistake and always have everything under control because they are just that amazing (though, again, I do like that in my happy, go-lucky action films). Rather, the message that The Next Three Days communicated (intentionally or not) was that it would not have been possible without, as the ex-prisoner suggested, loads of dumb luck.

Hollywood has been churning out movies that showcase the hard work and determination required to achieve one’s dreams (see especially, the Rocky franchise, sports-movies, cheesy movies, and Disney, as well as many jailbreak/prison-break/bank-robbery movies). But the unique beauty of the movie was that it questioned the possibility of success had certain things not fallen into place.

ULTRA-SPOILER: This was particularly the case with the impossible-to-plan-for birthday invite to the zoo (with the result that the police could not locate and quarantine the son). The moment of greatest dramatic tension, however, was when the family passed through the airport immigration/customs. Right after they passed through, their Most Wanted pictures showed up on the screen. But, through sheer luck (or perhaps the foreordained will and an omniscient screen-writer), the custom officer responsible for passing them through finished his shift and handed it off to another officer who hadn’t seen the protagonist’s family pass through moments ago.

All this would have been impossible to plan for, let alone control. The great contribution of this film was its (implicit) challenge to the reigning cultural ethos of arrogance that humans can do everything and plan for and control everything. We see this in our movies, in our scientists, in our politicians, in our foreign politics, in our financial planners, in Wall Street (we’ll forget about the Great Recession of 2009 in a year or two once stock markets rise again). But this is sheer arrogance and fraud!

Yes, we need to work hard and plan things and be willing to sacrifice for what we want. But we must always recognize that there are forces beyond any one man’s control and submit to this reality and cultivate a truer perspective and a proper humility (or at least recognize our arrogance in depending solely on our hard work and taking all the credit). Call it dumb luck or God or fate, but recognize the limitations of human power. Sure, our protagonist won the day, and, yes, it wouldn’t have been possible without his initiative, his research, his execution, his fast reflexes. But it would have all been for nought had the customs official stayed for one more minute and saw their faces. Hard work is necessary, but many times, it is not sufficient. Certain things beyond human control must fall into place. We don’t always have control. When we recognize that truth, we will be wiser for it, and perhaps humbler too.

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