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Does this movie work better in English or in its original French?
on 13 April 2015
"The Next Three Days" is a US remake of the French movie "Pour Elle" ("Anything For Her"). The two movies are almost identical, both in terms of story arc and plot details, differing significantly only in terms of casts and location. Advertising for the movie makes too much of the cameo roles played by Robert De Niro and Brian Dennehy. The original movie is set in Meaux, France, whereas the remake is set in Pittsburgh, USA. The remake has a greater sense of place, and Pittsburgh itself plays the role of a minor character; whereas the original movie offers rather more Kafkaesque disorientation which is entirely fitting.
The story is simple: a woman is wrongly tried, convicted and imprisoned for a murder she did not commit. Legal injustices like this can and do happen, and the movie invites us to empathise both with the woman and with her husband. Every legal avenue is explored and exhausted, and in despair the woman becomes suicidal. Her husband (an everyman) plots in secret to rescue her from jail.Most of the movie involves the meticulous planning for the jail break, and its exciting execution. The couple have a young son. In the original movie the son is left on his own (maybe even abandoned) in an hotel room, which would undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows in any audience. In the remake, on the other hand, the son is left with a sympathetic and responsible adult.
Having now watched the original movie, and watched this remake twice, I am in no doubt about how the story ends, and so the issue is whether the tension is still built and retained throughout the movie: it is. In the French original, the actress (Diane Kruger) who plays the female lead appears both innocent (and therefore the sense of personal injustice is greater), and more attractive as a person (and therefore it is more understandable that her husband would do anything to break free her from jail), whereas the actress (Elizabeth Banks) who plays the female lead in this remake, appears less innocent, and one could believe that she really had committed the murder, thus making her husband's desire to break her out of jail almost into a personal character flaw. This gives Russell Crowe, principal lead in the remake, more room to develop his character. His wife's possible guilt, absent from the original, is played on teasingly in the remake. The temptation of an alternative love-interest is also explored a little more than in the original. Overall, this remake is a little more polished than the original, with a slightly more complete ending, the flip-side of which is that it feels slightly less raw and edgy. The original movie is visually darker, with careful attention to palette.
Some movies work much better in the language in which they were written (for example, Studio Ghibli animés), and I was keen to see whether the French language original worked better than the US English remake - it didn't. It did not fare any worse, either. I am happy to have both movies on DVD. However, people who merely want the thrill of the plot will do best to choose the movie that is in their preferred language. Both DVDs have English sub-titles.