Based on Fred Cavayé's 2008 film 'Pour Elle' ('Anything for Her'), Oscar winning writer-director Paul Haggis once again attempts to provoke a reaction from his audience by placing the central characters in dangerous and untenable positions. Although his long-awaited return to the director's chair is far from the standards of the acclaimed 'Crash' (2004), this thriller offers enough suspense and exciting twists to make us feel like we haven't seen it all before.

After his wife Lara (Banks) is convicted of a murder she denies committing, John Brennan (Crowe) - a community college English teacher - is determined to free her by any means necessary. But since he lacks the expertise to perform a jailbreak, he is forced to rely heavily on the advice and valuable information of a prison escapee (Neeson).

With his newly-received information plotted precisely on a map, John is confident that he can beat the post 9/11 security measures. Before we know it this inexperienced man becomes a criminal mastermind, using the black market to snag some fake passports, not to mention the few nifty tricks he picks up along the way from YouTube involving tennis balls and lock picking.

But just when you think that director Haggis has put his male protagonist through the mill, he creates even bigger obstacles for poor John. Lonely after years of seeing his wife looking a bit worse for wear and in desperate need of a hair-cut, John grows fond of Nicole (Wilde), an attractive single mother. Will he lose sight of his goal? More importantly, is his wife even innocent?

Crowe's ability to play the regular guy so convincingly enables him to steal the show here. His vulnerability and persistence to free his screen wife despite the consequences make John an extremely likable character. Although Banks serves the story well as the emotionally unstable wife and heartbroken mother, it is difficult to see any character progression as her screen time is limited.

Where the film fails slightly is in some of the supporting roles. Despite what the trailer may lead you to believe, Liam Neeson has a disappointing cameo which lasts all of three minutes. Brian Dennehy's role as John's worried father adds nothing to the story, while the stunning Olivia Wilde's single mother character is a bit too predictable. However, her storyline does carry some weight.

The one major strength of the script is that it continuously allows John to mess up. He may be a college professor, but when it comes to learning the criminal ropes he places himself in some dodgy situations time after time, and ultimately puts his own life and his family's lives in danger. The audience are constantly waiting to find yet another flaw in his plan.

Although 'The Next Three Days' seems highly implausible and goes on for half a day too long, it has enough going for it to make a trip to the cinema worthwhile.

Laura Delaney