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NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Angela.

The movie opens and we see John Brennan (Russell Crowe) driving in the dark, with blood spattered on his face. He keeps looking in the back seat and we hear someone breathing hard, saying they don’t want to die, etc., then the breathing stops. John stops the car.

The Last Three Years.

We see the city of Pittsburgh.  Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) goes into a restaurant to join her husband Jon and his brother and his wife for dinner. It’s a tense dinner, as Lara is in a bad mood because she got into a fight with her boss right before then. Plus, Lara doesn’t like her sister-in-law and they get into an argument because Lara thinks the sister-in-law is making a pass at John, showing too much cleavage, etc. Lara and John are very much in love, and they get back to their car and she’s complaining, but he’s such a softie and reassures her and she kisses him and they have a sexy tryst in the car. They go home and pay the babysitter and go to bed.

The next morning they are all eating breakfast and it’s life as usual. She jokes she probably doesn’t have a job because her boss probably fired her, so why go into work. John is feeding Luke, their son. Lara takes some insulin in the bathroom using an epi-pen type mechanism (she’s a diabetic), and she takes a picture of the three of them. She’s been taking a picture of the three of them every day as an artistic experiment; John tells her she can’t do this every day for the rest of his life, but she says it’s only until he’s 18. They’re a very happy family.

Lara is putting some things away in the closet and sees the jacket she wore last night. It has a huge bloodstain on it she obviously didn’t notice before, and she takes it to the bathroom sink and starts cleaning.

There’s a knock at the door and craziness ensues:  Lara is under arrest for the murder of her boss. There’s lots of screaming, the son is crying, etc.

At some point, we got some montages that explain the murder. The boss is bludgeoned to death at her car with a fire extinguisher. As Lara walks to her car she runs into a grungy (homeless?) female, and Lara hears a button pop.  Then Lara gets into her car, parked next to her boss’ car (with the dead body beside her passenger door, between her car and the boss’ car) and drives off, while a man approaching the parking lot sees Lara drive away and sees the dead boss. We can’t really tell what happened, but there is evidence against Lara and she is convicted.

The Last Six Months.

John is at asleep with Luke, who is now older. He cries every night in the middle of the night, and John brings him from Luke’s bed into John’s bed so he can sleep.

They go see Lara in Allegheny County Jail. Luke plays with legos in the visiting room. Lara quickly kisses John, and they get away with it because no guards are watching them yet. When they try to touch later on the movie, the guards give them a hard time because it’s not allowed. Lara tells John he needs to run for governor and make conjugal visits legal in the state of Pennsylvania. He laughs. Lara goes to talk to Luke and asks for a kiss, but he ignores her and plays with the legos. She tries to talk to him, but nothing. She wonders out loud to John if he’ll ever kiss her again. Lara asks John if he has “any news,” and he said if he did he would have told her.

Later John meets with his lawyer, who said their latest appeal has been rejected. John says they’ll just appeal to the Supreme Court, but his lawyer says no decent lawyer would make the filing. “Then I’ll just find an indecent one,” John says. The lawyer says he’ll file.  He then tells John that whether he believes his wife is innocent or not, he needs to look at the overwhelming evidence against her. John said it was a burglary gone wrong, but since no one used the boss’ stolen credit cards afterwards, Lara’s motive of anger was more plausible than a vagabond’s motive of robbery. John says, “but she heard a button pop!” but no one believes that there was another person at the scene who could have done the murder. John is upset the lawyer doesn’t even believe his wife is innocent and essentially fires him.

The Last Three Months

At one point John is visiting Lara and she says she can’t do this for another 20 years. In fact, we learn she was sentenced to life. One night, John gets a call late, and his wife attempted suicide. She isn’t allowed visitors at the hospital, but he rushes in and appeals to the emotional side of the doctor and the doctor gives John two minutes with Lara.

At this point, I believe, is when John decides to break Lara out. He goes to the library and gets books on jail systems and finds a book by a Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson) who broke out of prison seven times. He arranges to meet him in New York.

Since John is a community college professor, I think he meets with Damon under the guise of research for his class or something. He asks some general questions about Damon breaking out of jail, and Damon says no jail is completely secure. They all have a proverbial “key,” and if you figure out what it is, you can break out. Things that are “out of the norm” shake up the guards.

John asks how he got caught, and Damon says he gave himself up. He had a hard time sleeping, wondering if someone would break through the bedroom door in the middle of night after looking for him.

Damon says a prison escape depends a lot on the type of jail, a city or country jail. John says, “city.” At that point, Damon realizes none of this is hypothetical. He asks what city, and John says Pittsburgh. Damon gives him some info about Pittsburgh:  Pittsburgh is tough. They’ll have downtown blocked off (there are bridges leading out of the city) by 15 minutes, and by 35 minutes his picture will be to every authority within a 50-mile radius.  You need real passports, drivers licenses, and social security numbers. You need to rent a car but find someone who takes cash. You need to leave town, leave the country, and don’t go to anyplace touristy:  think “Yemen” and you get the idea. You need money, lots of money. Money to last you for years and years. When you run out of money, you run out of friends.

Damon says you need to be willing to kill a guard, to kiss your family goodbye forever, to leave your kid at a gas station… and then, after all that, you need to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Then he asks John how much money he has, and John realizes he is going to have to pay Damon for this information. Damon takes his wallet and takes all his cash then leaves.

John goes home and starts to formulate his plan. He puts up a huge map of Pittsburgh in his room. He circles the downtown area and writes “15 minutes.” He makes the wider circle and writes, “35 minutes.” He stakes out the prison and takes pictures of delivery trucks that come and go all week. He takes notice of all of the protocols. He notices things “out of the ordinary,” (looking for the “key”), like water leaks in the ceiling being repaired or the cleaning guys leaving doors open. He posts all sorts of stuff up on his wall.

He sells all his and his son’s stuff on Craigslist, so he lives in a bare house but has a bunch of money. He keeps a bank account ledger on his wall. He calls out sick from work a lot; he leaves Luke with his parents often.

His first order of business is finding documents. He drives around dark alleys for a while and sees a lot of drug deals going on. He sees one really nice red car coming and going a couple of times (remember this.) Under the guise of someone who wants drugs, he buys oxycontin from some dealers and then tells many of them “I need passports.” A lot of them tell him to piss off, or whatever. One guy tells him he has to pay for passports up front; he says that’s OK. He tells him to go to some bar and ask for Harv; tell him Moose sent you. At the bar he asks for Harv and tells Harv he needs passports and Moose sent him. Harv says, “follow me,” and they go back into the alley where Harv and Moose beat the crap out of John and steal all his money.

He comes home and writes “-$2,000” on his bank ledger. He cleans himself up but he is a mess. There is a knock at the door. A guy from the bar followed him home; he is deaf and can read lips (and communicates well enough), and he knows what John wants. He says he can get him real legitimate passports for $3,700. John gives him the money but John tells him never to come back to his house. The guy tells John to meet him later at this restaurant under a bridge, but if he’s late to leave.

He goes there and the guy is late, but he stays. We see why later; a car with a “municipal” license plate (a cop) backs up and leaves. The guy comes up on his motorcycle and yells at John, telling him he was supposed to leave. He’ll get them both in trouble. He wants this too much; whatever he’s doing, he’ll mess it up. He hands him the documents; real passports and licenses for Lara and John Boxer and their son. 

John starts watching YouTube videos for stuff like how to open a locked car without setting off the alarm (you use a tennis ball) and how to file down a key to make a fake key that can open doors. John notices that in order to go up and down the elevators at the jail the security guards have to use a key. He makes a fake key at home and gets it to open his front door.

He makes a dummy key and decides to do a trial run one day while going to visit Lara. You have to turn in your keys at the jail security, but he put it in the tray and hands the tray back to the guard (which he isn’t supposed to do) and grabs the single dummy key as he does that. The guard yells at him. In the hallway, he is in the back of a huge group of visitors to the jail. He puts his key in the elevator but when he tries to turn it, it’s stuck. He struggles to get it out and ends up breaking the end off the key, with it stuck in the elevator. He walks away. A security guard comes up to the elevator and hits the alarm.

Every visitor waiting in the group is questioned. He is asked to identify himself in the surveillance video, and you can kind of see him in the back fiddling at the elevator, but he tells the interrogator he is in the middle. The interrogator says, “are you sure that isn’t you at the elevator?” and he says no. It’s obvious they think it was he, but they can’t prove it by the angle of the camera. He remains very calm and is let go. As soon as he walks out the front door of the jail he throws up.

A police officer sees him vomit, and he and his partner trail John for a couple days. They don’t get anything on him, so they have to drop it. It turns out this police officer was the same one that investigated Lara’s murder case. (I’m not sure, but he also might be the same officer who was at the restaurant under the bridge, when John got the passports.)

After awhile, he figures out the “key” to the escape. There is a medical/lab truck that comes to the jail every week at a certain time with lab results for patients who need it. (Remember Lara is diabetic.) John trails the truck for several stops, and times how long it takes the officer to go into his stops and come out. The guy is in-and-out making his deliveries in about a minute and a half.

One day, John uses his tennis ball and gets access into the truck. He goes in the back and finds Lara’s lab results. He takes a photo of it with his phone’s camera. He exits out the back of the truck just as soon as the guy comes back and gets in. Very clean. (How this is the “key” makes more sense later on. There is a scene where he uses Photoshop to fudge some of the test result numbers and writes “abnormal” on her sheet.)

He buys a gun. He asks the guy to tell him where the bullets go.

At some point he makes friends with a mother and her daughter at a playground. The little girl’s name is Carrie, and the mother invites Luke to Carrie’s upcoming birthday party. She says she’d love to meet John’s wife. John says she won’t be there… then kind of goes on about how she’s in jail but didn’t kill that woman, and the mother is visibly taken aback. Awkward!

John goes to visit Lara now that she is out of the hospital and back in jail. It’s a tense visit because she’s stressed out. They get into an argument of some sort, and she gets mad at him telling him he never even asked if she did it. He says he knows she didn’t, and she says, “and you’d be wrong.” She insinuates that she did it. She gets up and walks out.

He can’t leave. He asks her to come back to see him at one of the phone booths, where he tells her, “This will not be your life,” or something like that. He never tells her what he’s planning.

The next time he goes in to see her, she looks upset. She hands him a piece of paper – she is getting transferred to a new jail. He is upset. He claims that Luke is having a hard enough time in school as it is, and they can’t travel more to see her, she has to stay, etc. She says it doesn’t matter, they always knew when she was sentenced for life she wouldn’t be in Allegheny County Jail forever.

The Last Three Days.  It’s go time.

The money ledger on John’s wall says he only has about $1,500 left. He calls his realtor; his house has sold but isn’t supposed to close for another week. He can’t get ANY money right now. John knows money is necessary, so he’s upset. What to do?

He’s in a parking lot and puts on sunglasses and black jacket – he’s at a bank and will rob it. He hesitates. He chickens out. He backs up to leave and almost runs over a woman and her kid. His nerves are shot.

I believe here there are also scenes of John doing some other things, like getting a rental car and snapping a chain link fence with some cutters. None of it really makes sense yet. 

John goes back to the slums at night and finds the fancy red car from earlier. He follows it for a couple hours (or maybe it’s over the course of a few days?). The driver of the car does his deals, then goes to a house, bangs on the door, and hands over his money. He does this like clockwork, every time John watches him.

One night, John waits in the dark next to the door of the house. When Car Driver knocks on the door and it opens, John jumps out of the dark and hits Car Driver on the head and shoots into the air. He forces his way into the house, holding Car Driver hostage. There are two guys and a dog in the house. John gets Guy 1 to lock Guy 2 and the dog in a closet, and he also somehow smacks a gun out of the Guy 1’s hand and tells him to kneel on the ground. Somehow Car Driver is hurt, I can’t tell how exactly how. John demands their money. They throw rolls of cash at him, but he demands more. He knows there’s more. Guy 1 says he doesn’t think John has the guts or aim to shoot him, and John shoots him in the arm. He still isn’t giving up more money, but Car Driver is telling him to because he doesn’t want to die. John takes a piece of paper and some gasoline (maybe he brought it in with him?) and starts a fire in the kitchen. Guy 1 yells at him that it’s a meth lab, he’ll blow them all up, and he has a kid upstairs. John is visibly moved by the fact that Guy 1 has a kid, and lets him run upstairs. He drags Car Driver around the house and finds a duffel bag FULL OF CASH. Wow. He goes upstairs (I think to make sure the kid is OK as the fire continues to burn), but the whole kid thing is a ruse and Guy 1 starts shooting at him. Bullets hit Car Driver. In one lucky shot, John shoots Guy 1 in the heart. He’s dead. Car Driver begs him not to leave him, he doesn’t want to die, and please take him to a hospital. John takes him, and they leave just as Guy 2 kicks his way out of the closet. John and Car Driver get into John’s car, a Prius, and Guy 2 is shooting at them. He shoots out a taillight. John gets away.

This is the scene from the beginning of the movie. The guy dies in the back of John’s car. John leaves his body on a bus stop.

That night, John goes to his parents’ house; they have been watching Luke. It’s 3 AM. He brings in Luke’s backpack and his wallet/billfold. His dad is still up, and John goes upstairs to get Luke but instead falls asleep for a few hours. Dad casually looks and finds plane tickets in the billfold for all three of them to a presumably exotic location. (“Think Yemen,” from before.) Dad understands what is happening.

The next morning, Dad says nothing, but does try to connect with John in a way and says good-bye very sincerely, etc. John also says good-bye back very sincerely.

Also the next day, the cops are investigating the burglary/fire. They say dead Guy 1 has a huge rap sheet, and one of his known accomplices (Car Driver) was found also dead on a bus stop. They’re lucky the house is even there, since there was a meth lab in the basement. Guy 1 did have a wife and kid, but they left him months ago. The cops find the broken taillight and match it to a Prius. Five felons in their database have Priuses, one a murderer (Lara – already in jail), one a rapist, and three embezzlers. They check out the rapist and he is in a wheelchair. Then they decide look into John.

Meanwhile, John and Luke are at the house packing. John tells Luke he can only take what he can fit into their carry-on bags. Luke stuffs his pockets with quarters so he doesn’t have to pack it. John rips down his map on the wall with his whole plan, puts it in several garbage bags, and drops them in difference trash bins all over the neighborhood.

They leave. While Luke is in the car, John trails the medical/lab truck before its stop at the jail. He tells Luke to wait just a minute; he breaks in, replaces Lara’s test results with a phony Photoshopped “abnormal” test result, and exits out the back door (just like in his trial). Luke watches the whole thing very calmly.

It’s the day of the birthday party. John drops Luke off at 9 AM, even though the party isn’t until 11 AM. Carrie’s mom says that is OK and Luke can stay. At the last moment, John tells Carrie’s mom that in Luke’s pocket is his grandparents’ phone number, and if he’s late Luke can call his grandparents and they’ll come get him.

When the doctor at the jail gets Lara’s test results, it’s an emergency. They call an ambulance and she is sent to the hospital right away. John is waiting for them. He has a doctor’s jacket and goes into the room. Lara sees him and doesn’t get what’s going on. He has his gun and orders a guard to the ground and zip-ties his hands, and he knocks a doctor or someone else out. He has Lara change her clothes and gives her a doctor’s coat as well. She argues with him that he shouldn’t do this, but he insists. They’re going for it.

By now, the cops looking into the murder/robbery/fire are at John’s house. They break in and find it empty. They find the remnants of his “wall”; they know something was there but don’t know what. They search garbage cans. They get word Lara is being transferred from the jail to the hospital but is secured. They decided to go to the hospital to check it out.

They all intersect at the hospital; John and Lara are trying to get away using elevators, the cops are trying to use the elevators and the stairs to catch them, etc. John ditches the lab coats on one floor then takes the elevator still to another floor and then walks out the front door of the hospital. He clicks his stopwatch to start; he now has 15 minutes to get out of the city.

He turns his jacket inside out and puts on a baseball cap, and they mesh into a huge group of people going to a Penguins game. They’re lost in the crowd. They make it to a subway station. One of the cops knows they left the hospital and is trying to find them; he sees them through a skylight in the subway station and follows them, ordering the trains to be stopped, etc. John and Lara get on a subway train at the last second and take off. The cop jumps on the tracks and runs after the subway train.

At just the right moment, several minutes later, John hits the emergency button and the train stops. He and Lara get out and crawl through the chain link fence that he cut earlier. The rental car is right there waiting for him. They speed out of town, relatively unnoticed, and cross the bridge as his watch reads 13 minutes.

They go to the birthday party in the suburbs to get Luke. Carrie’s grandmother answers the door and says, “but they’re not back yet. It was a Zoo party.” All the kids are at the Pittsburg Zoo and won’t be back for an hour.

They start to drive to the zoo, but it’s closer to the city, and they get there just as his watch reads 35 minutes. He was supposed to be long gone by now. He keeps going (misses the exit) and tells Lara they’ll get Luke to them somehow. They have to go. John’s parents will take care of Luke. Lara, however, is calm but cannot emotionally handle this news. This is the scene where she opens the car door and tries to roll out. John grabs her and the car spins and it’s all crazy until they skid to a stop. They both sit on the ground next to the freeway; no words are spoken. It’s peaceful. They look at each other, get back in the car, and go back to the zoo. John finds Luke.

Meanwhile, you see the cops reassembling John’s map, you see them all on the phone with all sorts of people, etc. In one scene, the main cop apologizes to the mayor on the phone because traffic is so bad; he says he didn’t order them to stop every car, only cars with a woman, man, and child.

Instead of getting on the freeway, John says the next stop is the train station, which I guess is not far from the zoo. There is a huge crowd of people because all the trains are stopped due to the security breach. John gets out and talks to someone but we’re not sure why.

In the next scene they are driving, I believe, through one of the stops on the Pennsylvania turnpike. You see some cars being stopped, but not all. The guy from the train station is in the passenger seat, thanking John for the ride and asking “is $20 is really enough for a ride to Buffalo?” John offered two people a ride so now their car has two men, two women, and Luke. They are not stopped. They drop off their passengers in Buffalo.

They get to an airport. The ticketing agent, at check-in, remarks that they are “sure going a long way with only a carry-on bag.” John pauses for a moment then says, nervously, “Well, do you know how many times you guys have lost our bags?”

Now they just have to get past security and go. Luke sets off the alarm with all of the quarters in his pockets. Oops. They survive that, and then they need to show their passports.  John is still visibly nervous and Lara says, “I’ll do it.” She hands the passports to the agent and makes some idle chit-chat, and he lets them through, all the while scrolling through photos of people on a computer that are not permitted to fly. It’s the agent’s break, and as soon John, Lara, and Luke get through, a new guy comes on the shift, and the screen refreshes and John and Lara’s pictures pop up – but the new guy doesn’t know any different.

Meanwhile, the cops are trying to figure out where they are going. Some of the quarters Luke put in his pocket were left on the floor of his room – they are Canadian quarters. The cops think they’ll fly in and out of Canada, so they check with authorities there. They put John’s wall back together and find a picture of the Presidential Palace in Haiti, the one that collapsed during the earthquake. They think they know where the family is going; they stop flights going to Port-au-Prince. There is this montage where you see security agents at an airport stopping a flight, the cops on the phone all stressed out, and John and Lara in line waiting to board, but it turns out that’s not their destination. No one fitting their description is going to Haiti.

The cops in Pittsburgh find John’s brother and parents and question them. Even though Dad knows where they are going (he saw the tickets, remember?) he doesn’t say. He says instead, “My son and I didn’t talk.”

John, Lara, and Luke are safely on a flight headed to Caracas, Venezuela. They land and find a place to live.

Dad comes home and opens an encyclopedia and looks at a map of Caracas.

The cop chasing John realizes he’s lost him.

The other cop, the one who investigated the murder and trailed John after the fake key/vomiting incident, is back at the crime scene with his partner. He tries to piece some pieces together in his head. Through a video montage, we see that the homeless girl bludgeoned the boss to death with the fire extinguisher and left it on the ground (doesn’t explain why she never used her credit cards but oh well). When Lara came back to her car, she runs into the girl and a blood spot is transferred onto her coat and a button pops. At her car, she sees the extinguisher in front of her car and picks it up and moves it out of the way. She drives off.

The cop thinks if he can find the button – even three years later – maybe it could bring justice for Lara and prove someone else was there. It’s raining so he follows a stream of water to a storm drain. They pull out the storm drain, looking for the button. His partner thinks he’s crazy. As they let the storm drain fall back down, the audience sees the button, but the cop doesn’t. It’s there. Lara didn’t do it.

In the house in Venezuela, Luke is asleep and Lara cuddles up next to him. He kisses her on the forehead. (Remember she was worried he’d never kiss her again?) John takes a picture of the two of them with a digital camera, reinstating their tradition of taking a picture every day.

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