3 Days to Kill review: Underlying creepiness, though Kevin Costner plays for laughs

Yet another Luc Besson-scripted action-drama about tough fathers trying to save their little girls, with some very strange Freudian undercurrents to boot.

Around five years ago, Pierre Morel's distasteful but efficient Taken, scripted by French schlockmeister Luc Besson, introduced the world to the concept of Liam Neeson as a grizzled action hero; ever since, Besson and his EuropaCorp film group have been pumping out potboilers about grumpy middle-aged Americans abroad.

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Trailer: 3 Days To Kill

A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

The latest, 3 Days To Kill, is scripted by Besson in collaboration with Arik Ali, and given a dour, shadowy widescreen look by regular Besson cinematographer Thierry Arbogast – working with the American director known as McG, who could hardly be further with this effort from the pop feminism of the Charlie's Angels films that made his name.

Kevin Costner stars as Ethan Renner, a gruff-voiced, scarf-wearing, Paris-based CIA agent who is diagnosed with brain cancer, leaving him a few months to reconnect with Christine (Connie Nielsen), his ex-wife, and Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld), their teenage daughter. Also working for the CIA is Vivi (Amber Heard), a femme fatale who promises Ethan access to an experimental miracle drug in exchange for one last job. Naturally, he has to keep the deal a secret from his family; to complicate matters, the drug causes him to hallucinate, then collapse, whenever his heart rate rises.

Reviewer rating


Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Name 3 Days To Kill
Genre Action/Adventure, Crime, Drama
Director McG
Screen Writer Adi Hasak, Luc Besson
Actors Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielse
OFLC rating M
Year 2014
Language English

A dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter is offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.

Full synopsis

It's just as ridiculous as it sounds – and, thankfully, played mostly for laughs. As in almost any action-comedy, the gags arise from a clash between the extreme and the everyday. Both a ruthless killer and a bumbling sitcom dad, John is constantly switching from one persona to the other, unleashing violence at unexpected moments or pausing during tense standoffs to ask for parenting advice.

These shifts of register are the basis for some intricate storytelling games, with Ethan encountering variations on the theme of parents and children at every turn. One action sequence is seen through the eyes of a delighted small boy, peeping out a car window while his mother looks the other way.  Another similarly-aged boy belongs to a family of African immigrants squatting in Ethan's apartment – a subplot that gives rise to some truly strange moments, particularly when the clan gathers round to watch an older daughter give birth.

Kevin Costner in the espionage thriller <i>3 Days to Kill</i>.
Kevin Costner in the espionage thriller 3 Days to Kill

The underlying creepiness of all this is no more than you'd expect from Besson, who has long been obsessed with the fantasy of a "tough" father (or father surrogate, as in Leon or The Fifth Element) who'll go to any lengths to protect his little girl. Perhaps it's taking things too far, though, when Ethan persuades his daughter to cook him a romantic dinner, then offers her a private dance lesson – and it sure sounds like a Freudian slip when he tells Christine that he loves her and Zoey in "the same way".