Movie Review: '3 Days to Kill' (2014)

Kevin Costner’s comeback to mainstream theatrical films continues in this McG directed thriller. Written by Luc Besson, the scribe behind the spectacular “Taken”, he goes back to the roots of his earlier work for “3 Days to Kill”, culling from “Leon: The Professional” to be exact. Costner plays a dying assassin who is given the chance to extend his life with an experimental drug. The catch is he must kill for 3 days and complete a mission to apprehend a crime boss to get it.

When the film begins it feels promising and the script appears to be going in a different direction than your average run-of-the-mill thriller and it does deliver, just not in the way originally anticipated. This is not an action film. Despite, there being action sequences sprinkled throughout, this is more of a meditative drama on the inner workings of an assassin’s mind, mainly his guilt.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and wife (Connie Nielson) before he dies. He has spent so much time as a killing machine that he’s forgotten how to be a human being. As his physical body deteriorates he works to reawaken the soul residing within it. In this regard, the film captures quite a bit of emotional ground. 

It is reminiscent though not equal to the exceptional film “Assassination Tango” starring Robert Duvall. Similarly, that was not an action film and instead focused on the psychology of a professional killer’s mind. Anchored by Robert Duvall’s chillingly charismatic performance; it is definitely worth watching for a double feature.

Where the two films deviate is that the message from “Assassination Tango” is a warning that the people we should fear the most are the ones we’d least suspect of ever being a killer. “3 Days to Kill” acknowledges the cold-bloodedness of an assassin but purports the ‘heart of ice’ mentality of a killer can be melted by re-assimilating into the human experience.

The most frustrating aspect of the movie is there are missed opportunities throughout that would’ve elevated it past what it is. Dull cinematography dims the overall visual experience exponentially. The beautiful scenery of Paris is therefore diminished unnecessarily to carry out a mood effect that the storyline was already accomplishing.

Amber Heard is relegated to barely 10 minutes of screen time and that estimate is generous. Why she is continually marginalized in the films she is cast in (i.e. “Paranoia), is beyond frustrating. Her character is poorly constructed, opening up the film as a buttoned down company woman and then turning back up as a revved-up vixen.

No explanation is given for her transformation. Personally, it would’ve been interesting for the age of the daughter role to have been slightly increased so Heard could've assumed the part, given it had more screen time.

Costner gives a competent performance. While it’s not on the level of his career best turn in “Mr. Brooks”, it is satisfactory. The stumbling block to his approach comes in the lack of emotional reaction he gives throughout the film. He is so disaffected, it comes across aloof and when you want to see at least a little passion during scenes of enemy confrontation, it is distractingly vacant.

Hailee Steinfeld gives a decent performance that borders on uneven during certain points as the angst-ridden teen daughter. Connie Nielson shines with radiant warmth as Christine, Ethan’s on again/off again wife. Like Heard, you have to wonder why she has never been given more to do in her screen appearances. She clearly has the talent.

The subplot concerning the refugee family who have taken up residence in Ethan’s apartment brings its share of heartwarming moments, thanks in large part to Eriq Ebouaney’s tender performance as the family’s patriarch. Also of note is Marc Andreoni, who effectively brings some much needed comedic relief as a car salesman.

Several loose ends bog down the ending, especially a rather major reveal towards the end which amounts to nothing and comedic bits, such as the recurring ringtone of Icona Pop’s noxious single “I Don’t Care” popping up at inopportune moments is played for more chuckles than it warrants. The overall lack of a musical score increases the starkness of McG’s direction.

While the effort to interweave several storylines into the narrative fail to dazzle or make bold waves as a whole. “3 Days to Kill” is a sentimental way to kill 2 hours. Unfortunately like its main character, it does not spend the time it has in the most effective ways possible. Rating: 7/10

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