Review – 3 Days To Kill

If you thought the world needed another B-movie about an ageing American CIA agent laying waste to half of Paris, you’ll probably think again after watching this sloppy Eurotrash from journeyman McG.

No-one's happier to see Costner back on the big screen than I, it's just a shame it's in something as underwhelming as 3 Days To Kill

No-one’s happier to see Costner back on the big screen than I, it’s just a shame it’s in something as underwhelming as 3 Days To Kill

Following an early career spent making offbeat and highly stylised action films, Luc Besson has largely turned to writing and producing thrillers that are as formulaic as they are interchangeable.

In certain cases that formula has chimed with audiences – The Transporter series proved a tidy hit and turned Jason Statham into a bona fide action star, for instance. Taken also set the box office alight and gave Liam Neeson a surprising and unlikely new career turn as a movie hard ass.

It's an ageing American CIA guy (played by Kevin Costner) in Paris (again) in 3 Days To Kill

It’s an ageing American CIA guy (played by Kevin Costner) in Paris (again) in 3 Days To Kill

There’s an argument to be made for giving audiences what they want; however, Besson has barely bothered changing up the formula and, with McG’s lunk-headed direction in tow, the end result is the unnecessary and lazy 3 Days To Kill.

That being said, it’s great to see Kevin Costner back as a leading man following a series of supporting turns in the likes of Man Of Steel (2013) and this year’s unfairly maligned Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, even if he looks like he’d rather be sightseeing in Paris than shooting half of its citizens.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) shares a moment with her estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) in 3 Days To Kill

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) shares a moment with her estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) in 3 Days To Kill

Costner plays CIA agent Ethan Renner, who’s diagnosed with a terminal disease and decides to spend his last days trying to rebuild his fractured relationship with estranged daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) and, in turn, ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen). Ethan’s Company service is cut short by his illness; however, he’s drafted in by CIA assassin Vivi Delay (Amber Heard) to track down an international arms dealer called the Wolf (Richard Sammel). You can guess the rest.

The single biggest problem with 3 Days To Kill – aside from the fact it’s not very good – is that it doesn’t know what film it wants to be. On one hand there’s a family drama in which an absent father endeavours to reconnect with the people who really matter once all the assassinating and running after criminals appears to have been swept aside. Steinfeld is a fine young actress and the scenes she shares with Costner are nicely played. Tellingly, it’s in these quieter moments when Costner looks properly switched on.

CIA assassin Vivi Delay ('actress' Amber Heard) in 3 Days To Kill

CIA assassin Vivi Delay (‘actress’ Amber Heard) in 3 Days To Kill

On the other hand there’s the well-worn action set pieces that involve Costner waving a gun around and chasing down generic evil-looking foreign terrorists. Even the film’s big explosive set piece loses its impact after having appeared in the trailer (naturally).

Linked to all this gunplay is the character is Vivi Delay, who looks like she’s been dragged in from a European porn film. It’s fair to say Heard doesn’t get cast in movies for her acting prowess, but she’s on hilariously bad form here and the scenes she shares with a bewildered looking Costner are frankly bananas.

No-one’s happier to see Costner back on the big screen than I, it’s just a shame it’s in something as underwhelming as 3 Days To Kill.

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Four Frames – JFK (1991)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from Oliver Stone’s conspiracy epic JFK.

Jean-Luc Godard once said that “the cinema is truth 24 times a second … and every cut is a lie”.

The silent, grainy footage shot by Abraham Zapruder on November 22, 1963 as US President John F Kennedy’s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas lasts less than 30 seconds, features no cuts, and provides the ‘truth’ a conspiracy took place to assassinate JFK, according to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) and, in turn, director Oliver Stone.

JFK

Stone’s sprawling, dissentious and riveting passion project remains as fascinating today as on its release almost 25 years ago and has come under the spotlight once again in light of the 50th anniversary of JFK’s murder.

JFK

Equal parts conspiracy thriller, murder mystery and procedural, the film’s final act is given over to courtroom drama as Garrison goes to trial to expose New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw’s (Tommy Lee Jones) involvement in a plot to kill Kennedy; although it soon becomes apparent he’s more concerned with proving that a shadowy cabal of the ‘military-industrial complex’, Mafia, CIA, FBI and Secret Service staged a coup d’état by assassinating the president.

JFK

In a bravura sequence, masterfully edited and underpinned by John Williams’ iconic score, Garrison/Stone use the Zapruder film to shoot down the so-called ‘magic bullet theory’ and prove Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy by implying there were three gunmen in Dealey Plaza that day, one of whom was positioned on a grassy knoll and took the kill shot, causing Kennedy’s head to snap “back … and to the left”. Just in case it doesn’t sink in, Garrison methodically repeats the phrase over a loop of Zapruder’s fateful footage.

JFK

Costner, whose “Crash” Davies had declared Oswald to be the lone gunman in Bull Durham two years earlier, amps up the tub-thumping righteousness when he posits that America has surrendered to an Orwellian nightmare wherein truth has been murdered by fascism before finally breaking the fourth wall and declaring “it’s up to you”.

The film sparked a new wave of conspiracy-fuelled movies and TV series that declared the truth was out there, 24 times a second or otherwise.

Whether you believe Stone’s labyrinthine vision or not is ultimately irrelevant; JFK is a sensory-shredding descent down the rabbit hole and a primal scream from one of cinema’s most unique voices.

Review – Man Of Steel

The superhero’s superhero is back, but not as we’ve seen him before, in Zack Snyder’s earnest origin story that strives to put the king-daddy of comic books back on his throne.

There's enough in Man Of Steel to promise much for future adventures, but let's hope there's more fun next time around

There’s enough in Man Of Steel to promise much for future adventures, but let’s hope there’s more fun next time around

While his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound and run faster than a speeding locomotive naturally lend themselves to incredible set pieces, Superman as a character has always been tricky to build a movie around. His intrinsic capacity for good is far less dramatic than the dark, brooding of Batman, for instance, or the cocksure machismo of Iron Man.

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) prepares to sending his son away from a dying Krypton in Man Of Steel

Jor-El (Russell Crowe) prepares to send his son away from a dying Krypton in Man Of Steel

Uninspiring action sequences, a lacklustre plot and an over-extended running time sank Supes’ last cinematic outing, 2006’s Superman Returns, so the challenge was on to rediscover the magic of 1978’s Superman and make him relevant to a modern day audience.

The news that Man Of Steel would be ‘A Zack Snyder Film’ was hardly a great start. Since his highly watchable 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead, the quality of Snyder’s output has diminished further with each new release, to the extent that his most recent film, 2011’s Sucker Punch was virtually unwatchable.

Clark Kent flashbacks to his childhood in Man of Steel's best moments

Clark Kent flashbacks to his childhood in Man of Steel’s best moments

Although the presence of Batman alumnus Christopher Nolan and David S Goyer as, respectively, producer and screenwriter can be felt, there’s no mistaking this is a Snyder movie, which means stylised violence delivered at an ear-bleeding volume.

Taking the character back to his roots, Man Of Steel begins at the moment of his birth on a dying Krypton. His father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and mother Lara (Ayelet Zurer) manage to launch the spacecraft carrying Kal-El before maniacal rebel General Zod (Michael Shannan) is able to get his hands on the child. Crash-landing on Earth, he’s raised by honest-to-goodness farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), who name him Clark. When Clark starts to develop super-human powers, his alien lineage is revealed to him by his father, who warns of the need to keep his abilities a secret for fear that a confused, frightened society would reject him. However, when Zod and his followers arrive years later demanding that Earth surrender Kal-El or suffer the consequences, Clark must finally embrace his Kryptonian ancestry and become the superman he was destined to be.

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) consoles a confused Clark in Man Of Steel

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) consoles a confused Clark in Man Of Steel

While the dark and serious approach taken by Nolan for his Dark Knight trilogy works for a superhero who lives in the shadows, the similar direction Man Of Steel takes doesn’t make much sense. Tossing words around like “edgy” and “realistic” is all well and good, but when you’re dealing with god-like alien beings beating the hell out of each other and laying waste to half of Metropolis (and killing thousands of faceless people in the process, although this doesn’t seem important) on a scale not seen since the The Matrix Revolutions, “realistic” is stretching it somewhat.

Taken on their own merits, the childhood flashbacks Clark has during his Christ-like wandering phase in the film’s first act are the film’s finest moments. Handsomely filmed, these scenes are richly evocative and beautifully played by Costner and Lane. Indeed, the brief, wordless moment when a young Clark plays with the family dog and wears a makeshift red cape is Man Of Steel‘s high watermark.

Intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Man Of Steel

Intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in Man Of Steel

A typically restrained Michael Shannan as General Zod in Man Of Steel

A typically restrained Michael Shannon as General Zod in Man Of Steel

However, they look like they belong in another film when Snyder switches into default mode and lets the CGI do the talking. While there was a palpable sense of jeopardy for Iron Man and co during Avengers Assembled‘s extended final battle in New York, here the only thing you feel is a sore backside.

In his big break, Henry Cavill does everything that’s asked of him, from brooding lonerism to conflicted turmoil and finally self-assurance that falls on the right side of smug. He’s no Christopher Reeve, but then who is? Anyone aware of Shannon’s turns in the likes of Take Shelter and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire may wonder like me how much CGI was actually required to show Zod’s heat vision, so intense are Shannon’s eyes anyway. It’s hardly a stretch, but it’s fun nonetheless to watch him deliver Zod’s semi-regular meltdowns.

Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and his staff take shelter in Man Of Steel

Daily Planet editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) and his staff take shelter in Man Of Steel

Although she starts out well as feisty reporter Lois Lane, Amy Adams struggles with a script that runs out of things for her to do. Laurence Fishburne, meanwhile, dons his Morpheus hat for a spot of sermonising as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Crowe at least gets to run around more than Marlon Brando.

Superman (Henry Cavill) at one with the suit in Man of Steel

Superman (Henry Cavill) at one with the suit in Man of Steel

Hans Zimmer’s score may indulge the Christ motif a little strongly at times (there’s only so many angels you need to hear), but is otherwise stirring and haunting in all the right places and doesn’t make you pine for Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic composition.

Snyder drops in a few nice touches to prepare the ground for the inevitable sequel (a Lexcorp lorry is overturned during the Superman vs Zod melee, suggesting Mr Luthor is being primed) and one can only hope it makes room for a bit more fun next time around.

It’s ironic that a film featuring a character gradually finding himself should lose its way as it goes on. There’s enough here to promise much for future adventures, but this man of steel still has a long way to fly if he hopes to reclaim his crown.