Thoughts on the writing journey, daily life historical research and a little of everything else of interest to a romance writer.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Call it Research: A Movie with Character
So, yesterday I had one of my "crawling out from under the rock I've been living under" days. For me, that usually means it's the end of a semester and I'm feeling like I'm down to my last few brain cells. I just want to be entertained! I could read, but usually I want a movie. I got lucky and found "The Next Three Days," with Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks.
What a surprise -- in a great way! I don't think I've watched a movie that had such a complete arc for the hero's journey for some time. One other example I thought fit this characteristic was "The Firm." That movie also inspired a blog on Action Scenes where I explored proactive and reactive types of action.
The movie "The Next Three Days"is another hero's journey wrapped up (or rather unwrapped) in an action thriller. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is an English professor at a community college whose life has been turned upside down. His wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is in prison for murdering her boss. For three years he has been a single dad holding it together while working with the legal system to get an appeal. The last appeal has failed and he decides breaking her out is his only recourse.
Sounds good, doesn't it? However, apparently the movie didn't do very well with reviewers and I find comments like "a film of uneven pace and implausible plot."
That seems a bit like saying I didn't like the roller coaster because it went up and down. And don't we hold on just as tight going uphill? There's time to think about what's coming up. And I wouldn't have wanted to miss a minute of Russell Crowe communicating every emotion of his uphill climb. Watch closely because, along the way, you might see a clue. Or it might be a red herring. I guess those reviewers just don't appreciate roller coasters.
When the pace of action is combined with a sympathetic character, what an amazing journey it is. Like so many hero journeys, in "The Next Three Days" there is a layer by layer build up to the turning point when a hero decides what's morally important to him. It's a moment we recognize when the hero is done with life pushing him around and now he's going to push back. Best of all, this is a romance. The hero never once doubts his wife's innocence in his solitary journey. One of my favorite scenes is one of the prison visits. They've just been told that she's being moved to another prison and he can tell she's given up hope. He won't tell her what he's planning, but tells Lara "this will not be your life." We know it's a promise.
But in this movie, the hero does not turn into a superhero overnight. He's an ordinary man in an impossible situation. Oh, he knows what he's supposed to do. He's smart and he's consulted an expert in prison escapes. (Excellent cameo role by Liam Nissen.) He has to obtain false passports, new social security numbers and "a truckload of cash." He has to find the "key," which is the weakness in the prison's security and, of course, there is the "ticking clock" of how long he will have to execute his plan. How will he do this? How will his morality be compromised in the process?
Out of his depth, John makes tremendous mistakes and at any moment we think it's all going to go horribly wrong. If you haven't seen it, I don't dare say more that might spoil the story! There are some excellent secondary characters. His father (Brian Dennehy) has a small but pivotal role and so does a woman in the park John meets while with his son. And some more big questions to leave you in suspense: Will they have to leave their son behind? And finally, is his wife really innocent?
When all is said and done, this is another hero's journey that I'll be thinking about for a long time.