Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
The Stars: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde
The Story: A teacher (Russell Crowe, last seen as Robin Hood) is driven to extreme measures after his wife (Elizabeth Banks) is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit. He engineers a daring plan to break her out of prison so that they can, together with their young son, become a family again.
The Buzz: The film is based on the well-received 2008 French thriller, Pour elle (renamed Anything for Her for English markets), which starred Diane Kruger and Vincent Lindon as the couple. The film was adapted by Oscar-winning writer-director Paul Haggis of Crash fame.
The set-up for this film is intriguing. We are to believe that Crowe and Banks are a loving couple, and we are to believe that Crowe, an A-list leading man with plenty of action credits, is a man of limited means – he is merely a teacher, surely not cut out for a risky and complicated scheme to break his wife out of prison.
Whether the film works hinges on the chemistry between Crowe and Banks, as well as the likeability of their characters. Both of this is necessary to create the suspension of disbelief – sorely needed – for this story to work, as implausible twists and turns play out in clockwork fashion on screen.
The film wastes no time setting up its premise. In short order, we see Crowe and Banks as happily married and devoted parents. We see Banks’ character lose her temper in a heated after-dinner discussion with her sister-in-law, planting the seed of doubt – could her temper lead to her killing her boss? With her dead superior’s blood mysteriously found on her trench coat, and no alibi, could she be guilty or simply a victim of incredibly bad luck?
While this doubt is apparent throughout the film, Crowe’s character invariably has unshakeable faith in his wife and starts to formulate a daring plan after legal means to get his wife released run into roadblocks.
With her will to live waning – she survives a botched suicide attempt – and their son growing more distant from her by the day, he bites the bullet, gathers sage, sinister advice from a prison-break expert (Neeson in a cameo), and – of course – goes on the Internet to garner the specialised knowledge he requires.
A number of plot holes plague the film, with the murder investigation particularly flawed. And while Crowe is an eminently watchable male lead, it is a stretch to view him as a helpless teacher. His transformation from a novice – he asks the gun salesman to “show me where the bullets go” – into a nerves-of-steel shooter who disposes of drug dealers without batting an eyelid is, in a word, improbable.
Combine that with the non-existent chemistry with his screen wife, and the hardly enthralling by-the-numbers plot, lacking a much-needed strong adversarial figure, and you have a perfunctory thriller that is barely able to raise the pulse. It feels like a weak facsimile, even for those who have not seen the original.