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Crowe’s Professor Plans Prison Break; ‘Dagenham’ Strikers: Film

Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe in "The Next Three Days." Crowe plays a mild-mannered English teacher at a Pittsburgh community college, whose wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of killing her boss and sentenced to a long prison term. Photographer: Phil Caruso/Lions Gate via Bloomberg

“The Next Three Days,” starring Russell Crowe as a college professor who tries to break his wife out of prison, is a smart, suspenseful thriller that slowly comes together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Despite a few sluggish stretches and a plot that sometimes defies logic, writer/director Paul Haggis’s remake of the 2008 French film “Anything for Her” has enough Hitchcockian elements to hold your attention to the very end.

John Brennan is a mild-mannered English teacher at a Pittsburgh community college whose wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is convicted of killing her boss and sentenced to a long prison term. Brennan is certain his wife is innocent even though the evidence, including a splotch of the victim’s blood on her coat, strongly indicates she’s not.

Three years later, after Lara’s appeals have been denied and she has tried to kill herself, John decides to take the law into his own hands. He solicits advice from Damon (Liam Neeson), a scar-faced ex-con who wrote a book about his numerous prison escapes.

Neeson’s only scene is a memorable one. Damon discourages the desperate husband, telling him in precise detail how difficult a prison break would be. But Brennan goes ahead with his plan, scouring the Internet to learn how to make duplicate keys, break into cars and acquire other skills he’ll need to pull off the escape.

Meth Lab Shootout

Brennan is drawn into the murky criminal underground, where he meets a deaf man who offers to make him fake passports and ends up in a shootout at a meth lab. All the while, he’s covering a wall at his home with maps and photos of his elaborate scheme, which will later provide one of the film’s many surprise twists.

Olivia Wilde, best known for her doctor’s role on TV’s “House,” plays a single mom who meets Brennan and his young son at a playground and unwittingly gets ensnared in the escape plot. Brian Dennehy, Daniel Stern and rapper Robert “RZA” Diggs also have small parts, but Crowe dominates the film with a low-key performance that still packs intensity.

Haggis, the only person to write films (“Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash”) that won consecutive best-picture Oscars, makes good use of Pittsburgh’s diverse scenery, including its impressive riverfront and skyline.

“The Next Three Days,” from Lions Gate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***

‘Made in Dagenham’

“Made in Dagenham” is an entertaining, informative drama based on the true story of British female autoworkers whose 1968 strike against the Ford Motor Co. led to landmark equal-pay legislation for women in the U.K.

Starring Sally Hawkins as the group’s feisty leader and Bob Hoskins as a sympathetic union official, the film shows how this group of sewing machinists (they finished car-seat upholstery) defied a huge company that subjected them to sweatshop conditions and paid them far less than male workers.

Though the David versus Goliath theme has been done to death in movies, director Nigel Cole (“Saving Grace”) and screenwriter William Ivory make it fresh with the help of a terrific cast and authentic period look.

Hawkins is superb as Rita O’Grady, a young mother transformed from a shy worker into a vocal leader who stands up to the corporate bigwigs. Also notable are Jamie Winstone as a perky aspiring model, Geraldine James as the aging shop steward with an ailing husband, Miranda Richardson as a government official who supports the striking workers and Rosamund Pike as the beleaguered wife of a Ford executive.

As the closing credits roll, we see news clips of the real striking workers and recent interviews with some of them. The movie is a fitting tribute to their lasting impact.

“Made in Dagenham,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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