Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"The Next Three Days" is a remake of the French "Anything for Her"

I remember Paul Haggis’s work with “Crash” a few years ago, where he brings communities together in circumstance; but the new film from Lionsgate, “The Next Three Days”, on the surface a modern thriller set in Pittsburgh, seems like an overblown French artifice, which it is (based on “Pour Elle” or “Anything for Her” (2008), by Fred Cavaye (Mars), which I think Filmfest DC has shown. (Netflix doesn’t have it yet; Lionsgate could have bought the original from Mars for US theaters rather than remake it, or maybe Rialto beat Lionsgate to it.) In the end, the film is smaller than it looks.

We all know that marriage means “till death do us part”, and the obligation of a husband to suspend his own moral integrity as an individual for his family takes on an existential claim. Here, English literature professor John Brennan (Russell Crowe) never questions his diabetic wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), and the omniscient flashbacks, largely in black and white, are a bit ambiguous as to whether she really did it (or hired someone), to get rid of a bad boss. We know from the first restaurant scene (this is no Victor Victoria) that she can be jealous.

The film teases us with time spans (“the last three years”, etc), and even that seems artificial; it’s obvious supposed to confer the screenwriter’s mandatory sense of urgency, that Brennan just has to get his wife out during a medical transfer from jail. So, we are to believe that a gentle father like Brennan really can learn the ropes of the meth underworld. I didn’t buy it. But the buzz insists that Brennan has 72 hours to save everything he lives for.

I have a screenplay script (“Titanium”) that starts with a young male journalist’s learning that his pregnant fiancée of some months “went up”. But in a screenwriting class it was criticized for a lack of “urgency” – the (bisexual) protagonist didn’t act like he really cared about his bride-to-be. Instead, he had a second girl friend, and a boy friend, and seems more interested in the intellectual opportunities of UFO abduction than his relationship with the fiancée. (He’s no Prince William.) Instead of compelling characters, I wind up with a film that makes it credible that a UFO public abduction event really could occur (a lot more convincing than “Skyline”). So Haggis goes the other way with Crowe’s character: husband-and-dad is everything to him (the heterosexual world); he’ll kill to play out his life’s role. There is one scene where he is teaching his freshman English class and says that Don Quixote is about the dead end and despair that living one’s life by intellectually driven moral logic can drive one toward. (Actually, I think intellectually-driven characters can be compelling; the irony here is that a college professor is so “conventional”.)

The film does make use of the Pittsburgh scenery ("the Denver of the East"), especially the hills and tunnels.

The official site from Lionsgate is here

Rialto’s trailer for “Anything for Her

I need to say something else about the "anything for her" mentality.  I don't experience interpersonal emotion that way. I understand that this kind of emotion is expected not only within marriage, but sometimes among other family members as set up by parents.  But if I were to express that kind of emotion for a non-spouse, I would have to get married and have children first myself and have my own "domain", or else my station in life would be mere subservience.  That means that during adolescence and young adulthood I have to be "competitive" enough according to gender. Sorry that I have to say this but it is honest. The converse is not necessarily true. One can be married and have a family and be faithful and still maintain a separate personshood, and one's own separate respect for the law and the rest of society. (In one scene, a corrections officer warns John Brennan he should think about who will raise his son if he goes to prison, too.) 

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