So once again we have survived.

3 Days to Kill

tn_3daystokillIn 3 DAYS TO KILL Kevin Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA agent who finds out he has brain cancer spread to his lungs and three months left to live. The three days of the title refers to something separate from the three months to live. Don’t worry about it. He has to catch a guy, but when his heart rate gets too high he hallucinates and then passes out, which can be inconvenient in this line of work (or I guess pretty much any line of work or even leisure activity). This may sound like Costner’s version of DYING OF THE LIGHT, but in fact it’s his turn at a TAKEN type old man action movie written and produced by Luc Besson.

This one’s almost like TAKEN remixed. Instead of already having left the CIA he’s forcibly retired after collapsing on the job at the beginning. Instead of having to go to Paris to save somebody he already lives there. In the tradition of Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills character he is still in love with his ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen in the Famke Janssen role) and wants to spend time with his teenage daughter Zooey (Hailee Steinfeld from TRUE GRIT), who barely knows him and calls him “Ethan” instead of “Dad.”

Instead of a rescue or revenge mission the hook is that mysterious CIA hotshot Vivi (Amber Heard, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE) thinks Renner’s the only one who could recognize elusive terrorist The Wolf (Richard Sammel, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), so she arranges to give him an experimental drug that may extend his life in exchange for one last job. He has to keep going around killing guys in between quality family time, hiding it from them because he promised he wasn’t working anymore. Meanwhile he has hijinks with Jules (Eriq Ebouaney from FEMME FATALE) and his family of African refugees, who he legally can’t stop from squatting in his flat until after winter (SPOILER: he may end up liking them and not wanting them to leave) and Mitat (Marc Andreoni, DISTRICT B13), an accountant for the Wolf who he duct tapes in his shower and transports in his trunk but starts using for advice when he finds out he has teenage daughters.

mp_3daystokillIn subject matter and tone it’s the prototypical Besson production, so I was surprised how much more lively the opening was than your usual Megaton or Morel joint. It looked sunny, not overcast. It had clever, comprehensible, well-timed action (using people’s shadows on the ground as a guide to shoot up at them through a roof, then seeing their bodies fall over the side). And it leads into a nice looking-out-car-windows-contemplating-mortality montage set to a great soul tune I recognized from RZA sampling it (“Trouble, Heartaches & Sadness” by Ann Peebles, sampled on “Shadowboxin” by GZA, “Throw Your Flag Up” by RZA and “Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang” by Raekwon). When it finally got to the credit that said “directed by McG” it was a great “ah ha” moment for me. I had completely forgotten he directed this. Otherwise I probly would’ve seen it sooner.

I guess the world disagreed with me on this, since everybody said this movie was no good, but I think the humbled post-TERMINATOR McG and the factory-action-movie-producer Besson turn out to be a good match. I can’t say this is what we wanted from TAKEN (an unflinchingly badass meat and potatoes revenge movie), but I do think it’s a more successful version of what Besson was trying to do with that one (a movie about a badass operative trying to fix his broken marriage and relationship with his daughter).

In the TAKENs and UNLEASHED Besson is going back and forth between a violent action movie and a story about parenting or love or whatever. The relationship part is usually not very effective, seems tacked on and you wish they’d edited it down to get to the good shit faster. 3 DAYS is the first one where I really felt that was what the movie was about. Spending more time with his family and making them happy really is more important to him than work. Most of that is on Costner, Steinfeld and Nielsen, who all give real performances. Costner is playing it grittier than usual, talking in a raspy Clint Eastwood voice and seeming put out most of the time, so when he admits caring about people it’s kind of a heart-warming Scrooge moment.

Just as a quick aside, I think he should be wearing the suit and tie all the time, I don’t agree with the scarf. I know modern fashion is real concerned with men’s neck warmth, but I believe that’s mostly for the young guys with the tight jeans and stuff. I think Ethan Renner would know better. But I’m gonna give him a pass since he’s in France and there are cultural differences and what not. And maybe your neck gets more sensitive to cold when you have that particular type of brain cancer, I don’t know.

Alot of this really is about a guy that doesn’t know how to be a dad trying to deal with his daughter getting herself into trouble. Steinfeld seems so innocent that it actually is surprising when she’s deceiving him. Of course he does use his agency skills while looking out for her (for example beating up a bunch of guys trying to rape her at a rave) but it mostly stays away from making it into a broad joke like THE PACIFIER or something.

There are definitely some groaner comedy gags though. I think it’s time to retire the one where the parent gets called in to school because the kid was fighting but then – gasp, spit take, faint – is proud of the kid beating someone up. On the other hand they do a pretty advanced version of the out-of-touch-dad-brings-bad-present-for-daughter move, last seen in TAKEN 3. Instead of a stuffed animal it’s a bike, which she says she hates because it’s big and purple. He stubbornly holds onto it, rides and carries it around for a while before he finds out she doesn’t ride it because she doesn’t know how. Because her dad wasn’t around to teach her. (His bad parenting is also demonstrated by trying to make her ride the bike home in a skirt and stilettos.)

But most of the humor doesn’t feel very French, and I like that most of the absurd parts of the story don’t play as jokes. Like TAKEN 2 (and maybe FROM PARIS WITH LOVE from what little I remember) I have to wonder if some of the more extreme moments are meant as a sort of Verhoevien satire of American foreign policy. You got this CIA guy going around overseas killing all kinds of people, kidnapping a guy to torture, only to find they have alot in common. Besson likes to be uncomfortably casual or jokey about Americans roughing people up and I think most people take it as asshole-ishness, but I suspect it’s sarcastic. Suspect. I’m honestly not sure.

Whatever it is, I like how he ends up friends with the guy he kidnapped. He even calls to tell him to put his seatbelt on before the big car chase/shoot out.

While I was enjoying all the family shit in this one I must’ve got distracted because my Early Predictor Syndrome didn’t even pick up on (HINTED SPOILER) the twist that would bring the storylines together. That was nice. It’s got that thing I like where the action climax and emotional climax happen at the same time.

Somehow I even found myself invested in the character of Vivi, despite her mostly being your basic sexually aggressive hot assassin lady. She’s cool in that usual cartoonish kind of way, but there’s something messed up and tragic about her too. The seductive way she injects him suggests a druggie past or present. I like the hint that Zooey thinks her dad has a cool boss when she hears about her. It seems like Vivi could be a much needed big sister figure to her. And then Vivi’s apparently sincere affection for Ethan, demonstrated in the finale, is sweet and also sad, because what is she doing mooning after this guy? What happened to her? Maybe she doesn’t think any other guy is her equal. Maybe she’s right.

I’m surprised how much I liked this one. My standards for this seem to be different from everybody else’s, but in my opinion this is one of the better products from the Besson machine. I liked it.

APPENDIX:

note: this has a Christmas scene in it if you are stretching for Christmas action movies some year. It does not have an overall Christmasy vibe, though.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 at 7:24 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

13 Responses to “3 Days to Kill”

  1. I liked this one. I found myself surprisingly invested in the drama, even though I knew the whole plot was some manipulative bullshit. I like Costner now that he’s been humbled and seems happy coasting on his laid-back charisma. At the very least it felt like his character had a real arc, unusual in this kind of tough guy cinema where the hero usually remains perfect and implacable the entire time. For instance, all Neeson learned in TAKEN 1 was that he was right not to trust his daughter’s judgment. He didn’t have to change at all; the world saw fit to provide immediate examples to prove his point of view.

    One little thing I liked: In the first scene (forgotten by most by the time the movie is half over), Vivi is seen in a T-shirt and sweats, her hair in a ponytail, wearing minimal if no makeup. Then she suits up into her supervamp outfit for her first meeting with Ethan. You realize her character, which borders on parody anyway, is all a role to her. It kind of makes the odd sadness Vern noticed in her character more interesting knowing that the girl in the T-shirt is the real person and the femme fatale is just a persona she wears for work. It’s a weird thing to put in there and doesn’t really seem to fit what the rest of the movie is going for but I like it.

    Great opening credits sequence, too.

  2. I was keen to see this in the cinema, but didn’t. Picked this up cheap about three weeks ago; watched it, liked it (more than the two TAKENsez I’d seen, and probably LUCY) but to be honest I’ve forgotten about half of it and struggled to remember some of what was mentioned during this review. And in all modesty, I have a very good memory. But maybe that just gives me a good reason to revisit it sooner.

  3. My favourite thing about this movie was that it has the laziest prop design I’ve ever seen, and the movie makes a big deal of making sure you notice it at the start:

    “Cought Syrup”

    You had one job, prop designer!

  4. Did anyone else think this was riffing real hard on Costner’s back catalog? To be sure there are the obvious references to his playing a cowboy, and the clear reference to THE BODYGUARD as he carries his daughter from the nightclub, but am I imagining all this other stuff?

    Recurrent nosebleeds as a signifier of terminal illness – see AMERICAN FLYERS
    Going after “the accountant” to get to the villain – see THE UNTOUCHABLES (not to mention multiple deadly elevator encounters)
    At one point Ethan comes around apparently under water surrounded by fish (what was that even, an aquarium?) – WATERWORLD
    At the climax, Ethan has to deal with The Wolf while his daughter dances – well, you get the idea.

    Like Pacman2.0, I liked this more than I liked the TAKENsez, but by the time the wife mentions at the end that a significant package has been delivered for Ethan, I’m asking “Was it dropped off by THE POSTMAN?”

    Moving swiftly on, and I hope this is an OK place to mention it, I was interested to see Besson got a producer credit on THE HOMESMAN. Despite Tommy Lee Jones’s old soldier character having to rescue a teenage girl who has been taken at one point, this seems at some distance from the usual EuropaCorp product. This is a film that has stayed with me and kept me thinking for long time.

  5. Majestyk: I saw her transformation just the opposite from you. There was a scene in between the sweats and ponytail and her femme fatale get up where she was getting her assignment, or checking in, or something work related where she was wearing a business suit, with minimal makeup and conservative hair. I thought at the beginning she was putting on her work suit, but then later when she was dealing with Ethan she was able to be her true self and let her freak flag fly by becoming the dragon lady.

    I do agree with Vern, about her vulnerability and sadness, though, so that made me think that her transformation was maybe just another persona she put on. She probably hides her true self from everyone and has many different personality suits to wear.

  6. That interpretation works, too. It could go either way based on the scant info we’re given.

    See, the great thing about McG’s filmmaking is the subtlety.

  7. Long time since I commented here but felt I had to at least weigh in. I am a pretty big Besson fan on all fronts and I truly enjoyed this one. It reminded a lot of a little known film that Besson wrote and produced called “Wasabi” with Jean Reno. The tonal mix of action, comedy and domestic drama in “3 Days to Kill” is much more in line with that film. Vern, if you haven’t seen it, I totally recommend checking it out…

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0281364/

    And since it’s been a while since I’ve commented, Vern, I’m gonna throw in a random recommendation I really want you to review. Check it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0821470/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

  8. I haven seen this one but I like Costner way more in the 2000’s than I ever did during his peak in the 90’s. OPEN RANGE is a big reason why but I also felt that MR. BROOKS was pretty underrated. So off that good will as well as vern’s reviews and the comments here I think I’ll give his one a go.

  9. I also really like MR. BROOKS. It kind of has a JOHN WICK thing going where the world-building was more interesting and involved than you thought it would be going in. I always wanted a trilogy: MISS BROOKS, following the psycho daughter, and MRS. BROOKS, following the poor, deluded wife as she finally figures out that everyone in her family is a serial killer.

  10. It ‘s kinda frustrating too that it was always built up as a potential franchise starter. The producers have been talking up a potential sequel for years now. I wish I was a blue blood so that I could just fund the damn thing myself. A lot of potential in expanding on the Brooksverse for sure.

  11. Having now seen TAK3N I can *very* comfortably say that I liked this more than any of those f1lms

  12. Yeah this is a shockingly good movie. The action sequences are above average, the tearjerking drama stuff is surprisingly effective (the bicycle scene and the baby birthing scene are great, but the teaching-the-daughter to dance scene was one too many), and yeah, i really liked the Charlie Kaufman-esque meta aspect of going through Costner’s Greatest Hits like Borg9 suggested (even though I only picked up on the American Flyers, Untouchables, and Bodyguard homages). There’s just something very emotionally moving about seeing Costner, an actor alot of people have written off, playing a guy near the end of his life, while the movie reminds us why we liked him in the first place. Him delivering his best performance in years doesn’t hurt.

    The aforementioned trick of showing Amber Heard at the very beginning and having her act like an entire different character for the rest of the movie was so simple I can’t believe nobody’s done it before. Without that first scene her entire character would be so over-the-top from the rest of the movie it’d be distracting. With that scene included her character is fascinating. A spin-off/sequel to this one would be way better for the world than any Takenses, btw.

  13. Just saw this and MR. BROOKS and glad I finally listened to you guys instead of everybody else not on our wavelength. 3 DAYS was a pretty solid action movie and, in my opinion, much more solid spectacle entertainment than what the press and bloggers usually flip out over. Just another reminder how ‘out of the loop’ we are here from the mainstream and even nerd-stream.

    Mr. Brooks was so damn good. I’m usually the anti-Franchise Fred and fell that if you did good, no point ruining those memories with a sub-par sequel that admittedly we will probably forget was even made. With this one, I agree with Mr M and Broddie that there seems to be more interesting stories to tell in this universe.

    With also re-watching BULL DURHAM I’ve been doing pretty good with Costner movies, eagerly looking forward to my rental of CRIMINAL to come in.

Leave a Reply





XHTML: You can use: <a href="" title=""> <img src=""> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <b> <i> <strike> <em> <strong>