Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielson, Amber Heard
The Premise: Can a Hitman for the CIA give it all up to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter?
Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), who has been working with the CIA for 32 years, is dying and has been told he has five months to live. Hoping to cement even a modicum of a relationship with his 16 year old daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), Ethan retires and moves back to Paris. As he works to pick up the pieces of a failed marriage and a teenage daughter who is hurt that her father had no time for her, he is enlisted for one last job with the prize of having a chance to use a unreleased drug that might give him more time with his family.
Through the family of squatters living in his apartment, the collection of men he is forced to capture and torture as he searches for the Albino and The Wolf, Ethan will learn what it means to be a father, a husband, and accountable to those he loves. With purple bicycle in tow we follow the comedic, emotional journey of a man once lost but working hard to be found.
With a script co-written by Luc Besson from his story you already know going in what is in store: Light-hearted fun with great action scenes, and this film delivers. One might even call this film a farce in the traditional sense. Although the story of Ethan and his constant pursuit of becoming a better father is laden with truth and heart, it is when he leaves his family to do “one last job” that the comedic, exaggerated characters are brimming. This is pure Luc Besson, and with McG’s strong direction this harmless film does what it sets out to do: entertain.
Kevin Costner’s comedic timing is often overlooked but one only need look through his oeuvre of past films that we know he is ready for it. One need only see Tin Cup or take a look at the scene in Robin Hood where he visits Maid Marian for the first time to be reminded why he is up for the job. The heart and strength he lends to this long-hardened Hitman only hefts the human aspect of the film to a level where the nonsensical elements have a place to break out from. He is the strong centre in a world of chaos that in any other movie would seem out of place, yet Costner swims through the vaudevillian set-ups with such ease that you one cannot help but be willingly carried along.
Amber Heard, as Ethan’s handler Vivi Delay, plays the seductive agent provocateur who may or may not be working from inside the CIA. There is not much for her to work with here, but she does her best to portray a woman who knows that she can use her sexiness if she needs to and, yet, will not shy away from pulling a trigger if the situation occurs. Her cavalier attitude keeps you guessing whether she will follow through with her promise to Ethan or leave him out to dry when the deed is done.
What is interesting about the antagonists is just how brutal they are. In this Sunday night 80’s sitcom of oddballs it would have been so easy to have The Wolf (Richard Sammel) and The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis) play for laughs, but instead we have one character who beheads people with sociopathic joy and another who has no problem shooting up a room full of teenagers. The movie never pulls any punches with its violence that even after The Albino takes off a women’s head with a elevator á la Resident Evil we find ourselves laughing while Ethan is on the street trying to convince a newspaper vendor to loan him a quarter from the take a penny-leave-a-penny jar.
Besson and Hasak’s script is so tight that a wiser film connoisseur might take umbrage with how predictable the film can be at times. For instance, when Ethan’s daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) refuses to call him Dad in the first act we all know that in the third act she will. Or we are aware that every single time Ethan is in the middle of a torture scene the overbearing ringtone Zoey programmed in his phone will ring and Ethan will then include whomever he has duct taped up in the ensuing conversation. And, of course, the side effects of the new under-the-counter drug that Ethan’s handler is giving him will kick in just as he is about to take down one of the key bad guys. We all know it. We all see the call backs coming from the moment the conceit is revealed. And this reviewer recognizes that this would cause some viewers to roll their eyes because they were so much smarter than this film, and they have all the right in the world to feel that way.
It would appear McG learned a lot in the interim between this and the utterly forgettable 2012 film This Means War balancing his kinetic action with some fun character moments (of course, hiring an old pro like Costner helps alot). His direction of the action is smart, easy to follow, and a rollicking good time. The car chase in the third act shows us why he is still working, although not to be compared to Ronin, it does provide thrills and a few new takes on old stunts. It takes a good director to work out the right camera placement for a fight in a tight loft full with a hundred extras and McG pulls it off with ease.
No one is going to be discussing the finer plot points of 3 Days to Kill over the water cooler at work on Monday, no lengthy diatribes on the character development of Ethan and his family. But, this film isn’t asking you to. It gives you just enough information to bring you in and then it asks you to sit back and enjoy the situations.
The family drama is chintzy at best. Besson et al, give only the bare minimum of character moments for Ethan and his daughter to grow from assumedly relying on our own projections to carry it along. We see the bonding is going to happen before the characters ever interact and some might find that off-putting, but for a film filled with as many clichés 3 Days to Kill you have to ask yourself why it matters. No one is asking us to invest more than the 113 minutes of our time. This reviewer believes that sometimes a movie really is just fluff, and if you have fun then who are they hurting?
The key to enjoying 3 Days to Kill, if you are not already a Costner fan or a Besson fan, is to understand that this is a not a world based in reality. This is a fantastical Paris where snitches who have been tied up and beaten will still give Spaghetti Sauce recipes to their attacker’s daughter or someone would allow a Hitman in their house after dark to get child-rearing advice from their own children. With Costner’s sturdy performance and a cast of characters that revel in their roles all wrapped up inside a story that simply wants the viewer to have fun and perhaps relate to ups and downs of balancing work and family, 3 Days to Kill does its job perfectly. European sensibilities coupled with Hollywood bombastic direction make an otherwise predictable story an enjoyable movie well worth checking out.