Out of the blue, businesswoman Lara (Banks) is arrested and convicted of murder, her teacher husband John (Crowe) the only one who believes her innocence. When appeals are exhausted, Lara becomes suicidal, and as their son is suffering, John decides to break her out.
Paul Haggis’ remake of a taut French thriller (2007’s Anything For Her) is along the lines of Prison Break minus tattoos. The focus is on the transformation of its mild-mannered teacher hero (Russell Crowe) into a steely action man, propelled into planning a daring escape by his passionate devotion to a hot-tempered wife (Elizabeth Banks), who may or may not be guilty of bashing in her boss’ skull with a fire extinguisher but still looks good in an orange jumpsuit.
John (Crowe) is such an innocent he seeks out the ex-con author (Liam Neeson) of a book about prison escapes and studies lock-picking and such on YouTube. Like obsessives in all kinds of dramas, he covers a wall of his home with The Plan, with photos, notes and timetables, so we can kind of see what he’s thinking.
After a lot of sad mooching around, suddenly it’s an action movie, Crowe’s quiet academic revealing big brass ones and a dangerous scheme far more intricate than we have been led to understand. That it also hinges on some preposterous good luck evading canny coppers (Lennie James and Jason Beghe) absolutely strains credulity, although fortunately for the film, Crowe’s presence and performance can’t be faulted. The most powerful scene has no dialogue, when he goes to the jail to tell Lara her appeal has been denied. The look in his eyes not only tells her she’s going to be a granny before she gets out of there — cue sobbing and screaming behind the glass partition — but reveals the depth of his feeling for her, upon which the entire story of his resolve depends. It’s John’s parenting that worries us! That his little boy (Ty Simpkins) needs his mommy is emphasised in John’s motivation. But he risks making the child an orphan and seems prepared to abandon him if things get tricky, as, naturally, they do. While this stresses the moral ambiguities of John’s dilemma, it is, along with some undesirable consequences of his scheme, disquieting.
Haggis does make Pittsburgh look better and more interesting than one would imagine, with unprecedented access to the real Allegheny County Jail (biggest urban chokey in the world) and the city’s transit systems boosting the climactic cat-and-mouse excitements. But the transitions from romantic drama into thriller are somewhat clumsy, and the conclusion begs the question: uh, now what?
Okay, but it lacks conviction.