3 Days to Kill was directed by McG (Terminator Salvation, This Means War), written by Luc Besson (Renegades, The Fifth Element) and Adi Hasak (From Paris with Love, Shadow Conspiracy), and stars Kevin Costner (Criminal, Dances with Wolves), Hailee Steinfeld (The Keeping Room, Bumblebee), Amber Heard (Aquaman, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), Tomas Lemarquis (Dreamland, Breaking Horizons), Richard Sammel (Spencer, The Strain) and Connie Nielsen (Nobody, Gladiator). It’s about an ex-CIA agent who’s trying to handle watching his daughter for the first time in years while completing one final mission.
The Plot: 3 Days to Kill uses a tried-and-true formula, this one, and should’ve been more successful than the results would indicate. The screenwriters try to stuff the movie full of non sequitur writing, throttling the story that occasionally works when its focus is aimed at its central premise.
Longtime CIA agent Ethan (Costner) is working in Belgrade alongside agent Vivi (Heard), among others, to capture the Albino (Lemarquis) before he sells a dirty bomb to terrorists. The Albino makes one of the agents and escapes, with Ethan unable to stop him thanks to a convenient spell of dizziness when his heart rate goes too high. He gets the dirty bomb but after finding out he only has a few months to live, is fired by the CIA. He comes back home to France to find a family of African squatters in his apartment, which doesn’t belong, narratively or literally.
While waiting them out, he visits his estranged wife Christine (Nielsen) to tell her the news and see Zooey (Steinfeld) one more time. He’s propositioned by Vivi to pick up killing again in exchange for a drug that could extend his life. In return, she wants the Albino’s partner, the Wolf (Sammel), dead. There’s not much of a choice there, so Ethan takes the job. It takes more than a few more missions to get done, which splits the movie into episodes with its insistence on making multiple missions out of what could’ve been one long stretch. Ethan keeps going on mini-missions and trying to supervise Zooey until the movie finally decides that it wants to end.
Besson and Hasak try to fit every genre into 3 Days to Kill. There’s a version of this movie that has something cohesive, but with the jammed execution, this fails at telling any story, much less all of the stories.
The Characters: Working within familiar territory can be done well, as shown by some of Besson’s own scripts, but he and Hasak fail at that in 3 Days to Kill, which offers jagged sketches and little understanding of motivations.
Ethan is the one character that can mostly be understood. He used to be a good operator, but never the best because of his refusal to cross certain lines like killing innocent people or joining jobs in which he was unclear on the objective. That does beg the question as to why he joined the CIA of all agencies, but I digress. As the cliche goes, he has a heart of gold and regrets being away for so long; now with hindsight on his side, he wants to make up at least some of the time he lost after decades of work.
Zooey and Christine are more of the same material seen in countless other actioners, some that Besson himself produced. Zooey is cold towards her long-absent father, justifiably so, but by the halfway mark, little has changed and she’s still pushing him away with almost every attempt at fixing what’s broken that he makes. She finally changes her tune towards the end in a very expected moment though. Christine is gone for most of the runtime, making this family reunion feel like something (else) is missing.
Vivi doesn’t do much other than hand out missions and act condescendingly towards Ethan, the man she’s trying to keep in her own(?) pocket to do her dirty work. Why she’s acting on behalf of the CIA instead of the director is unknown and could’ve been something of a surprise if the movie played with motive, but it doesn’t. The Albino and the Wolf are equally tertiary and again, largely absent. They’re a footnote in what’s supposed to be an action/drama hybrid.
What few characters receive attention are only afforded the same old, same old. 3 Days to Kill lacks creative connections, or at least quick connections, making the characters another whiff.
The Action: Being produced by EuropaCorp brings with it a certain expectation regarding the quality of the action set pieces and choreography. McG is experienced at handling this kind of action but the script doesn’t back him up.
3 Days to Kill peaks early, with its first big spectacle in the real Hotel Jugoslavija demonstrating a decent grasp on the tone and the execution of the action. It opens with Ethan already having taken out half a dozen men before the mission starts; there’s also a moment where the movie allows him to show off his uncanny ability to brush past people and slip things into their pockets. It’s a well-shot sequence, with the hotel being on the receiving end of one of the most impressive explosive scenes in recent memory.
What follows can’t replicate the scale or impact that preceded it. 3 Days to Kill consists largely of small scuffles that are only tangentially related to the plot. A scene in which Vivi asks Ethan to infiltrate another hotel to find one man is good too. There’s a creative usage of a doorstop as a decoy grenade but that’s where that action scene ends. Actually.
Not much more follows, there’s a fight in a market where Ethan is wearing a bulletproof vest for the only time in the movie, a couple of minutes are devoted to watching him break up the molestation of Zooey, and a shootout in the Parisian streets. Even this is bland, especially when compared to 3 Days to Kill’s contemporaries.
It’s weird to see an action movie with a hesitation for action. It starts well but backpedals as far as possible, with no blood shown and flat execution. Those looking for more Besson-produced mayhem should tune out after the first 10 minutes.
The Technics: With a lot of money being thrown at this picture, it’s no surprise that there’s little to complain about regarding the raw construction of the movie.
Paris has become a familiar city even to those who haven’t visited in person thanks to the hundreds of movies that take place there. 3 Days to Kill offers, even more, to look at in the same place. It’s shot well enough and has a strong sense of place, even in the action scenes that don’t take place in France.
Pacing is a huge issue for 3 Days to Kill. It stops and then it starts plenty of times; when it looks as though Ethan is about to start devoting his time to either his family or his final mission, the movie changes direction. Half of the time that direction isn’t even aimed at something tied into the story, like the family of squatters or the Wolf’s right-hand man that Ethan lets live because the man has his own family. The tone is equally mangled by this odd decision-making process.
Costner, Steinfeld and Nielsen all commit to 3 Days to Kill but it doesn’t reward their efforts. The script is halfhearted about its family dynamics and hesitates to embrace its action and even McG feels out of place despite this being his wheelhouse.
3 Days to Kill is available on Blu-ray and DVD as well as various Digital platforms from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. And if you’re looking for something similar, FilmTagger has some suggestions.