As I’ve said before, I really enjoy Luc Besson’s Franco-American adventure films. So when I sat down to watch Kevin Costner’s latest action flick, 3 Days to Kill, and saw that the story and part of the screenplay were Luc Besson’s I smiled in anticipation. I had a feeling that I was in for an enjoyable, if not overly deep, action film.
This film returns to Besson’s favorite stomping grounds: the spy adventure set in Paris. He tends to cast unabashed Americans running around scenic sites shooting and chopping the crap out of the bad guys. 3 Days to Kill is a straightforward action movie that sets out to entertain and accomplishes exactly that. Costner plays Ethan Renner, a CIA operative who is estranged from his family for their own protection. Nearing retirement age and terminally ill, Renner returns to Paris to reconcile with his loved ones before he dies. Then a chance for a cure leads him back into the action and he has to balance his family aspirations with his need to kill a bad guy and/or save some portion of the world. The trope is older than True Lies, which may have done it best in over-the-top tones, but it keeps returning to cinema because it works. We like seeing bad-asses, and we enjoy the idea of fathers, spouses, and families coming back together despite adversity. Throw in some delightful Parisian scenes in the background, colorful stock characters, and the formulaic but pleasing story will entertain.
There is nothing surprising here. Renner is ill so the aging Costner has no trouble with the physical demands of the role. Long-gone are the days of the obligatory butt shot that we were beginning to suspect he demanded in every one of his films (thank you, Lord for delivering us), but many old action heroes have returned to the screen with verve if not great monetary gains.
The supporting cast is a delightful collage of third-tier talents and up-and-coming faces who give their roles a good shot without threatening to overcome Costner’s reserved acting styles. Hailee Steinfeld plays Renner’s problem-child daughter Zoey. Think of Besson’s works as Diet James Bond and you will have the sense of it. Thomas Lemarquis plays a delightful dark lackey with The Albino, henchman to Richard Sammel’s nuclear arms dealer The Wolf. Lesser henchmen exist to establish how cool our hero is before he encounters real opposition. Bruno Ricci and Marc Andreoni serve well as Guido and Mitat, lesser flunkies who amuse and inform in turns. Connie Nielson plays Christine, Renner’s estranged wife who wants her husband to be out of it. Amber Heard tramps around in her seductive glory as the puppet mistress behind Renner’s dilemma. Though it must be said that she weaves a touch of altruism through the tired kinkstress trope that makes it just barely palatable in the family-oriented take on the spy film.
Besson’s films bright out the varied beauty of Parisian life. Zoey’s story highlights the night life with its dangers and wild dances. Ethan’s scenes take place among the great beauties of the city, the tower, the river, grand buildings thousands of years old, and more.
There is one trope that I want to discuss quickly, the dynamic between Christine and Ethan Renner. Ethan tells his daughter in the film that sometimes violence is the only way to stop a bad person. Ethan has lived his whole life violently stopping bad people who would harm the innocent and the world. But Christine only sees her own family’s needs. She is the trope of the anti-wife. Instead of a wife who brings out the best in her husband, she seeks to subvert his strength, to steal it from the world, the society, and her neighbors who need protecting to have it all for her self, clutching it in her nest like a miserly bird instead of letting him go and be strong for her and her family as well as those around them. I can count on one finger the films or series where a warrior’s wife fell in love with a warrior without instantly setting out to change his very identity, or at least hating what he did, his vocation.
Marriage is a blessing. Femininity a virtue. But all virtues can be twisted into vices in the hands of our sinful natures. This sick perversion of femininity (the God-imbued power to bring out the best in a man turned selfishly into a pit to trap his goodness and strength for her and hers alone) is the default in a society that raises women up and has forgotten the longer story of a warrior’s wives. In the years from the dawn of time until very recently in the West (and pretty much only in the West) women have been so safe that they could worry more about what their husband was doing to comfort them than what their husband could do to protect them. Gunmen-rangers in the Westerns, Knights in fantasy and history, warriors and kings through history have been the desirable men in the days when safety wasn’t taken for granted. God’s word describes him as a warrior. King David, the man after God’s own heart, and even Jesus will come as a conquering king at the end of days, without which the bride could not be delivered from bondage. A man does not need to be a savage, but since the Fall a man has needed to have strength to lend others while we have it, so that we might all be safe and free.
It is interesting to note that there are very few ambiguities in this film. When I sat down I had little doubt that the bad guys would lose, that Ethan would save his family, and that whether he lived or died things would improve with his family. But the film’s only ambiguity hinges on the issue I mentioned. We’re never completely sure whether Ethan will give up his warrior’s ways, or whether he will keep trying to connect with his family despite them. Besson’s not known for sequels, so we may never know.
3 Ways to Die is not deep or profound, but it is entertaining, pretty, with pleasant outcomes and nice characters. The music is a nice sampling of Euro-dance and orchestral spy accompaniments. The action is crisp and occasionally original.
This is an entertaining film, worth a watch.