(director/writer: Paul Haggis; screenwriters: Pour Elle by Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans; cinematographer: Stéphane Fontaine; editor: Jo Francis; music: Danny Elfman/Alberto Iglesias; cast: Russell Crowe (John Brennan), Elizabeth Banks (Lara Brennan), Liam Neeson (Damon Pennington), Olivia Wilde (Nicole), Ty Simpkins (Luke Brennan at 6), Toby Green (Luke Brennan at 3), Brian Dennehy (George Brennan), Lennie James (Lieutenant Nabulsi), Jonathan Tucker (David), Moran Atias (Erit), Jason Beghe (Detective Quinn), RZA (Mouss), Allan Steele (Sergeant Harris), Helen Carey (Grace Brennan), Kevin Corrigan (Alex), Daniel Stern (Meyer Fisk), James Ransone (Harv); Runtime: 122; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Olivier Delbosc/Paul Haggis/Marc Missonnier/Michael Nozik; Lionsgate; 2010)

The thriller works better when viewed as a love story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A remake of the French thriller, Pour Elle (2008), directed by Fred Cavayé. The American version is thirty minutes longer (not an improvement) and is stiffly written and directed by Paul Haggis (“Crash”/”In The Valley of Elah”) as an earnest straightforward prison break thriller that feels cumbersome and becomes too preposterous to be convincing. The thriller works better when viewed as a love story, as it becomes weighed down as a thriller with its far-fetched jail break story, one that might only work in Hollywood, and is brought further down by elusive moral questions it raises that just hang there without resolution (such as dealing with an innocent person imprisoned).

The mild-mannered John Brennan (Russell Crowe) is an English professor in a community college in Pittsburgh, whose conventional quiet middle-class life was turned upside down three years ago when police burst into his humble private house and, in front him and his three year old son Luke (Toby Green, with Ty Simpkins playing Luke at 6), arrested his ideal wife and his son’s loving career mom, Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks), for astonishingly murdering her female boss in the firm’s parking lot. The evidence is the night before at a restaurant the boss and Lara bitterly argued, a co-worker was an eyewitness at the parking lot crime scene, the vic’s blood was on Lara’s raincoat and her fingerprints on the murder weapon was the clincher.

The story picks up three years later with family lawyer (Daniel Stern) telling John their last appeal is denied and that wifey will rot in jail for the rest of her life. Hubby believes so much that wifey is innocent without ever asking her (and so should we implicitly believe she’s innocent, if this film is to make any sense), and decides since things are hopeless he will break his diabetic, insulin dependent wife, out of prison and move to a foreign country with false passports for the family. The obsessed John contacts an ex-con turned author (Liam Neeson), who escaped seven times, and gets the scoop in their brief coffee shop talk how to do it and how even more importantly to plan out what to do while on-the-lam.

This reckless scheme (which I found hard to believe even when I suspended disbelief) means, at the very least, if John is caught doing this criminal act that has no justification, his son will have to be raised by his grandparents. For the next three days the harried professor has more on his mind than teaching Don Quixote (which he tells his class is about an idealistic dreamer irrationally trying to find justice in an unjust world), as he maneuvers to get fake IDs, passports and driving licenses for the expatriates through unscrupulous and dangerous street drug dealers (RZA and Kevin Corrigan). The tormented lovelorn hubby then goes into action pic mode character. By showing to what absurdly ridiculous lengths this ideal husband is willing to go in his undying love for his wife, even rob and murder, some of us might (or should) get turned off and will find Haggis’s screenplay has gotten a little too carried away with its wild-eyed idea of fidelity (or love) to have much validity.

REVIEWED ON 11/19/2010 GRADE: C+