When the experienced CIA agent Ethan (Kevin Costner) collapses during a mission, resulting in his failure, he retires: the diagnosis is terminal brain cancer with only a few more months to live. Trying to make up for his past mistakes, he reconnects with his family on the condition that his work is done. But there is one last mission – one that he has no choice but accept if he wants to extend his life a little longer, only having ‘3 Days To Kill’.
A humorous stab at secret service movies
On the one hand, the movie adheres to many elements common in such films – but here they are twisted into something that goes beyond the superficial ‘Bond. James Bond’ expectations –and of course his rather leisurely and in comparison to suited-up Bond rather shabby clothes do the trick as well. Upon retirement, he returns to see his family in Paris; the alienation between all of them is obvious and, to be honest, quite sad. Although there is clearly some affection between him and his separated wife, they are very clearly distanced on account of his previous job – only it’s not as previous as she’d like. Trying to keep in check the effects of an experimental drug that he is given in exchange for his last mission while simultaneously attempting to both reconcile with his daughter and fulfil his mission is quite a handful for him to deal with. And that’s where the film extends beyond the impersonal, über-cool classic agent style: where work and family meet, it results in hilariously ridiculous scenes, even to the point where he takes ‘how to be a father’ advice from criminals – but also from an actual, real happy family that only happens upon his life by coincidence.
And yet so sad…
For anyone with a split-up family – and if statistics are to be believed, there are a lot of people out there –, and probably even for those without, the film has another, deeper level of love, futility, and the reminder that there is never enough time that you can spend with your loved ones. Although it is an extreme case – surely not everyone has a CIA agent as spouse, at least not knowingly – it probably echoes exaggeratedly many problems that we have in society: not enough time for the loved ones, prioritising work before family, and so on. Kevin Costner conveys extremely well the torn personality that he is; tired of his work and the way things have changed, with his boss as a perfect example of the coldness and classiness that we would expect from them; torn between fulfilling his ‘duty’ and spending time with his family, even though, of course, the only reason he’s on the mission is in order to spend more time with them long-term. He constantly screws up this new area of his life, sometimes making things worse than they were before, but his attempts to reconnect with his daughter Zoey are genuine and result in quite touching scenes between them: when he finally catches up on the things that would have been his family duty a long time ago. She is clearly having troubles trusting him, and no one would blame her, but slowly she learns to appreciate having a father figure in her life; one that she can call ‘dad’, not ‘Ethan’.
In the end, everything’s good – or is it?
It is the clash of these entirely different worlds that make this movie what it is: an entertaining humorous, at times sad experience with enough unconventional and conventional fast-paced action to keep those in check that may be more impatient with these kinds of things. To the very end, I did not know what to make of the his boss Vivi, and I still haven’t decided whether we are supposed to like her or not. Maybe they are supposed to embody how the perception of secret agents changed in film, too – or to show how old he actually has become, compared to her ruthless vitality. Eventually, though, everything ends well– or does it, with death inevitably gnawing on any promise of a happy, fulfilled life? – See for yourself.