Making the Grades
Usually, I’m a sucker for a story that shows parents trying to build better connections with their kids. In 3 Days to Kill secret agent Ethan Kenner’s (Kevin Costner) most important mission is to reunite with his estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) who lives in Paris with his wife Christine (Connie Nielsen). Not surprisingly, his line of work isn’t conducive to maintaining strong family relationships, so when he suddenly reappears in their lives, Christine isn’t sure she wants to put the teen through the pain of seeing her dad come and, as usual, go again. She also isn’t certain she believes Ethan’s promise he has quit his day job for good—until he confesses the cause of his sudden change of heart.
Ethan has learned the persistent cough he has been nursing is actually lung cancer. He has, at best, five months to live. Having just endured a violent confrontation in Syria, the news sends him into immediate retirement and leaves him with an intense motive to renew family ties. Convincing Christine that he wants to be the father he never was, she accepts his near-deathbed repentance and decides to leave him in charge of Zoey and their French flat while she is away for three days.
And that’s where my hopes for any heartwarming potential in this movie turned cold. Family relationships (and family friendly entertainment) fall off the priority list the moment a mysterious black car pulls up after Ethan finishes walking his daughter to school. Inside is Vivi (Amber Heard), a woman who claims she is from the “upper shelf” of the CIA, yet looks much more like a femme fatale from a 1960s detective drama, complete with cigarette. Amazingly, without checking any credentials, our seasoned operative not only hops into the vehicle but also accepts her offer to inject him with a mysterious experimental drug that is supposed to cure his cancer. The fee for this miracle? He must kill one last man.
Was the IQ bar for CIA employees suddenly lowered?
Like Mr. Incredible, Ethan is drawn into the game and is soon shooting up a storm on the streets of Paris and driving like a madman down the sidewalks. All of this is interspersed with bonding father-daughter moments, where Dad advises Zoey on how to fix her hair, how to ride the ugly purple bike he has bought for her, and gives her dance lessons to prepare her for her prom date.
Riddled with both plot and bullet holes this script assaults its audience with copious amounts of bloody violence and serendipitous stupidity. Quick to shoot and ask questions later, this spy failed his Subtle Moves For Secret Agents class. And while we might accept that he can beat up and gun down possible criminals with nary a nod from the Paris Police, his use of similar force while attending to his daughter’s doings is a sizable stretch of the imagination. Arriving at a club he suspects is the whereabouts of his underage daughter, he shoots a bouncer in the foot after initially being denied admittance. Inside he bashes a few bad guys to a pulp when he discovers his drugged-up child in a washroom surrounded by leering men. (Vivi is similarly fast to fire—implying the CIA holds little regard for justice or even extracting evidence.)
Additional content of possible concern includes a scene in a strip club that shows obscured female breast nudity, another with female rear nudity and three sexual expletives (one in subtitles). Fortunately other profanities are infrequent.
Building to a bombastic conclusion, with what may be the most coincidental construct of any movie I’ve recently seen, this romp allows its hero to blast his way through any obstacles that might prevent him from arriving at the expected sentimental conclusion. My advice for prospective viewers would be to target a different title if you have 2 hours to kill.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about 3 Days To Kill.
What do you think the life of a real CIA agent is like? Do you think they would casually kill people as depicted in this film? (Can you imagine what those shooting sprees would look like on the nightly news if they did!) To learn more about the CIA and how you can get a job there, check this page and the links that are within it: https://www.cia.gov/kids-page/6-12th-grade
How do you feel about the mix of violence and comedy in this film? Does the comedy help to make the violence less disturbing? Does the violence make the comedy less funny? Should these two styles, with opposing emotional responses, be combined?