3 Days to Kill – 2014

Director McG
Starring Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen, Richard Sammel, and Eriq Ebouaney
Screenplay Adi Hasak, Luc Besson

Awkward is something that has really worked well for Kevin Costner in the past.  He’s great at answering questions at inconvenient times while trying to work it into the present circumstance.  This is a simple thing, really, but it’s hard to get right.  Luc Besson and Adi Hasak give him plenty attempts at this interaction.  Some of them work, others do not.  The important thing in any standard thriller is to give the protagonist memorable quirks while still making them somewhat competent. If one sees nothing but bravado, the film could be lost in a matter of minutes.  He spent many years trying to get the mix right in his action films and found that the combination went from great (Dances with Wolves, The Untouchables, A Perfect World,  Open Range) to not so great (Revenge, Waterworld, The Bodyguard, Wyatt Earp).  The general rule is, that the less flaws Costner characters have, the more flawed the film is.

Indeed, 3 Days to Kill is the best work Costner has done since his heyday.  As a CIA Agent Ethan Renner, he discovers he has a short but indeterminate amount of time left to live.  He takes an opportunity to go to Paris where his estranged wife and daughter live after he left them years ago.  While there, he is given the opportunity to take an experimental drug  if he agrees to kill a certain amount of bad people through the next three days.  Why the real CIA would write him off and some élite CIA assassin (Heard) would decide to take pity on him is never made very clear.  Also, given that it happens to be people he’d been after anyway feels awfully convenient.  Still it’s an action movie, so we have to expect Renner would not go gently unto that good night.

One nice side story involves Renner coming back to his Paris Flat to find a family squatting in his residence.  What happens here is not quite like anything seen in a film of its kind and it allows for a nice dimension to Costner’s character.  The make up phase between Renner and his daughter (Steinfield) has its moments, but it is incredibly uneven.  Some segments seemed designed to be a mini-version of Taken, where  others (learning to ride the bike) have a more organic feel.

The ending of the film is a stack of intricately timed coincidences.  Fortunately, the film’s events are not tied up exclusively by action, but more how the events conspire to change the character of Ethan Renner.  It’s clear that he loves his wife (Neilson) and kid.  The push by Renner for some breathing room is exemplified simply by brain cancer that travels to his lungs, making it hard to think and hard to breathe.

This is the most enjoyable Costner has been in several years.  If he can hone this type of character into a routine, like Eastwood did, he might have a pretty sweet time in his 60’s.  If he shows up in The Expendables 4, we’ll know he just gave up.

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