Dir. Paul Haggis. USA. 2010.

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We have seen Russell Crowe do teacher before in A Beautiful Mind – there he played the part of tortured Mathematician and in doing so tested his method acting capabilities to the hilt. This is a far better film, really two in one as the first part has the main protagonist, John Brennan – played extremely well by Crowe doing the classic ‘fish out of water’ to become the man of the hour breaking his wife out of jail in a very intense crisis and final sequence. This initially seems difficult as the pace at the onset is very pedestrian but slowly develops into a pot boiler as the stakes get higher, realities are faced and the pace quickens with relatively little time to make the adjustment.

It begins with an outing in a restaurant – John and Lara Brennan are having dinner with another couple of friends and Lara is ventilating her angst at her boss – a good mood setter as it is the accusation of murdering her boss that lands Lara in jail, with all evidence pointing against her.

Just about everything about this film is well done: the foreshadowing of the family portraiture, Lara’s need for insulin, John’s inability to believe the worst. After the initial shock scene with the police busting in on the Brennan’s home to arrest Lara – she has blood of her boss on her coat, the crucial turning point is where there now seem to be no hope of a reprieve for Lara and she will be spending the next twenty years inside. A good and sturdy cameo performance is put in by Liam Neeson as the seasoned prison escapee giving Crowe advice – though it does lack credulity that a reformed character would be handing out advice in this way, but this is where Crowe gains his sense of logistic realism in what he is facing as well as a very plausible plan.

The initial sequences where Crowe has to enter a world in which he does not fit in order to secure dodgy passports is painful to watch: he goes back to his job with bruises and this is nearly as unbearable as the scenes where he uses a dodgy key to try to get Lara out whilst she sinks deeper and deeper into a depression. The main leads do a great job in engaging audience sympathies and the opposing forces (the law, police) are not put across as heavy handed or as nasty enemies. The fact is that there is all evidence pointing to Lara spending a long time away from her son (who gradually finds it hard to remember her).

The character crux is Crowe turning from amateur to focused action man. The plan to get her out is executed wisely with great plausibility, the viewer rooting for them 100% with the usual emotional involvement given to loveable baddies. Brian Dennehy is great as Crowe’s all seeing and feeling Dad who plays his part in the foxing of the police who come to the conclusion that a plan this passionately undertaken may well have some sense of desperation or injustice behind it.  An ordinary man has put this together and may even have left his ‘plans’ (that were on his wall throughout the film) as a purposeful decoy to be easily found.

There are one or two moments of humour to lighten the tone – another single parent is attracted to Crowe who takes his son to the park alone. He reassures her that his wife ‘did not really murder that woman.’ She becomes a later place of unknown safety for his boy, which adds to the utter sense of that this is just how it would go: the boy would be at a party this day – as he would any day, and there would be no way the police would be able to anticipate such events as life going on as it ever would.

A rich cinematic experience and a very satisfying film.

Gail Spencer

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