Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: I’m a little skeptical as to how David Yates and company are going to make two well-paced movies out of one last J.K. Rowling volume. There’s more than enough book, but Yates already demonstrated some chop-chops by taking the most bloated Potter book, Order of the Phoenix, down to the slimmest running time of the movies so far; plus, wasn’t some stuff that the book Hallows pays off not actually fully set up in the previous movies owing to, you know, stuff necessarily being cut? Which is fine; if anything, the filmmakers should’ve shown more freedom to cut, modify, and swap bits from all of Rowling’s books to make them play a bit better as movies, not just supplements with, post-Columbus, decent filmmaking and reasonable depth of feeling. It just makes the idea of a 280-minute Deathly Hallows after a 130-minute everything else seem a bit lopsided.
I have heard Yates talk about how the tone and style of Part One, in advance of the obvious effects blowout of Part Two next summer, will be a more dramatic departure than the series has seen thus far (although the leap from the book-on-videotape Columbus versions to Cuaron’s more freewheeling and genuinely magical gate-buster will be hard to match). If that’s the case, maybe this is a weird combination of Warner Brothers cash grab and filmmaker freedom: if Yates agreed to play ball with the money-doubling two-movie proposition, he got more leeway to make at least one of said movies interesting? [At least one, according to our reviewer. -Ed.] I’ll be finding out on Friday with everyone else, and also cheering on Kreacher, my favorite sour-spirited house elf.
The Next Three Days: I don’t hold the same Paul Haggis grudge as any number of film fans and critics I know. I mean, yes, it was ridiculous that Crash won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain. But it was ridiculous that Braveheart and Chicago won those awards, too [You could go back further! -Ed.], so who really cares. Haggis also co-wrote the two Daniel Craig James Bond movies, which did a nice job of making Bond more human while keeping the movies themselves as relentless thrill machines [Well, yes and no, and our long discussion in the comments section there does a good job of elucidating why my Haggis skepticism, though not total, is not contained to Crash, and indeed How You and I Are Different. -Ed.]. Actually . In some ways, Haggis is the screenwriter version of sometime collaborator Clint Eastwood: workmanlike, a little old-fashioned, but potentially quite effective on the right material (they simultaneously found a perfect mutual groove with Million Dollar Baby).
The Next Three Days, being a character-driven thriller, seems right in the unpretentious section of said wheelhouse, avoiding the faux-topical elements of Crash or In the Valley of Elah and going straight for old-fashioned movie thrills. It provides them in fits and starts, following the efforts of slightly milquetoast college prof Russell Crowe to maybe kinda sorta break his wife Elizabeth Banks out of prison after she gets a life sentence for murder. Haggis has fun with the idea of a novice fumbling together the elements of a very risky escape plan—one I’m sure has little bearing in real life but for a movie, mostly more or less convinced me. But he bogs his own movie down with tedious family drama which manages to not actually involve Banks directly for long sections (understandable in the sense that her character is in prison; less so in that if you have Elizabeth Banks in your movie, you should use her). The Next Three Days winds up more characteristic of the Haggis social-awareness dramas in its heavy handling of themes that Hitchcock would’ve juggled with aplomb (for that matter, Eastwood might’ve done well with this material, too). Liam Neeson has a too-brief cameo as a prison-escape expert; is there no particular set of skills this man can’t pretend to have and impart to others?