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Happily-married couple Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and college academic John (Russell Crowe) lead a quiet suburban life in Pittsburgh with their 3 year old son Luke (Toby & Tyler Green). One morning their lives change forever when police burst in and arrest Lara for the murder of her boss, which she says she did not commit, even though all the evidence points to her. Condemned to a twenty-year prison sentence and with all legal avenues exhausted, John decides to organize his wife's escape. But he quickly finds himself out of his depth as he becomes entangled in the dark side of humanity.

Review by Louise Keller:
The weight of Hollywood tugs at the coattails of this thriller that soars in its original French language version, but suffers in the remake, when there is too much that's pretty and not enough gritty. That's not to say Paul Haggis' film does not have its moments, nor is Russell Crowe anything except the real deal we have always come to expect. But there are some obvious holes to be picked, notably the lack of chemistry between Crowe and Elizabeth Banks, on which the entire premise relies - that his devoted husband would do anything for her.

In a faithful retelling of the original film (starring Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger) in which many scenes are identical in construction and execution, the story begins with Crowe's John, face splattered with blood, driving a car at night. In flashback three years earlier, the characters are quickly established: John, the decent and fine teacher, Lara (Banks) his lovely blonde wife and their toddler son. The early scenes are problematic because we don't know what is happening as police storm the house, Lara is arrested for murder and sentenced to life in jail. The story kicks in however, when John decides to do whatever it takes to help his wife escape, opting to create his own moral code and live in a reality of his own choosing.

Escaping is easy; staying free is the hard part, says Liam Neeson's ex-crim Damon Pennington, who maps out what John needs to do in order to put his plan into practice. Neeson might have a cosmetic scar painted on his face, but make up is not enough to toughen him up for the role. Crowe's transition from teacher to criminal and seeking out the wrong crowd to get what he needs is a bit too pat (Crowe looks far too comfortable holding a gun), while Banks is all wrong as the wrongly convicted Lara. When John visits her in jail, she looks as though she is planning a family picnic. And yes, I have a quibble about her hair. Ok, the blonde grows out and she becomes a brunette, but why in the final scenes as the daring escape is in full progress, does she look as though she has just been to the hairdresser? Curls and all? There are also some poor choices of music that give the wrong tone, hinder the pace and lessen the tension.

As the film turns from drama to action thriller, things start to sizzle and there are some genuinely exciting moments as John's carefully laid plan is played out. Here again, just as our hearts start beating as the tension mounts, the interaction between John and Lara goes belly up and we are left wanting. Haggis, who also wrote the screenplay, must take the blame here, as he unnecessarily drags out the ending and prolongs the film to an overlong 133 minutes. Search out the original Pour Elle (Anything for Her); it's much better.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's not your average escape movie, in fact you wouldn't put that label on it, even though that's the story. What it's about, though, is a profound love - as displayed by a man's determination to free his unjustly jailed wife. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and while John (Russell Crowe) is a man of learning, a lecturer in English literature, he has to become a man of action. This transition is in the capable hands of both Crowe and director Paul Haggis; they succeed in convincing us that this character makes that transition. In the process, he has to overcome emotional, moral and physical hurdles - a hero's journey indeed.

I didn't (yet) see the French original, and I suspect it has a different tone, but the story remains the same and the execution tilts it toward Hollywood sensibilities. I don't mind that in this case, with its effortless and seamless polish in technical details and its fine visuals.

Crowe delivers a softer character than we are used to, a father and caring husband who has exhausted his legal options, and won't give up the fight for his wife's freedom. The injustice of her incarceration gives the audience the fire in the belly, and takes the film into complex moral territory. (Is he right? What else should he do? Discuss.) Elizabeth Banks works well with Crowe, especially in the third act when the escape plan kicks into action.

The excitement is well managed and I especially like the fact that the cops are made out to be as smart as good cops really are, not donut munching buffoons.

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RUSSELL CROWE - closer to director's chair

(US, 2010)

CAST: Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Banks, Jonathan Tucker

PRODUCER: Paul Haggis, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonier, Michael Nozik

DIRECTOR: Paul Haggis

SCRIPT: Paul Haggis (screenplay Pour Elle, Fred Cavaye, Guillaume Lemans)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephane Fontaine

EDITOR: Jo Francis

MUSIC: Danny Elfman, Alberto Iglesias


RUNNING TIME: 133 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 3, 2010

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