I tend to be fairly economical when it comes to awarding star ratings in these reviews, if only because no matter how terrible a film is, entire crews have spent months of hard work making the damn thing. The acting, plot and direction of the film may not be up to snuff, but you can bet your bottom dollar the key grip and best boy worked their asses off on set, and to trash a film would be to trash the hard work of everybody involved. For me to truly hate any film, it has to have a value system that’s actively offensive, and make me question why anybody would want to work on something so evidently abhorrent. In the case of 3 Days to Kill, the Kevin Costner action comeback nobody asked for, it’s not a case of the actual plot being offensive (even though it is awful), and rather just a single scene that entirely derailed a film that wasn’t even riding on the tracks properly to start with.
Before getting to that scene, a long painful hour into an unnecessarily overlong film, we must be introduced to Costner’s character Ethan. Ethan is a CIA agent who, at the start of the film, is diagnosed with brain cancer – something which the audience knows already, as he spends the entirety of the opening action sequence coughing as unsubtly as possible in the shorthand filmmakers use to show terminal illness onscreen. He goes to Paris to spend the last few months of his life with his estranged family. But wouldn’t you believe it, whilst there he gets told that if he kills a terrorist known as “the wolf” (yes, really) within three days, he will be given an experimental drug that can CURE HIS CANCER. If this wasn’t screamingly stupid enough, the film doesn’t even seem to be particularly interested in this plot, interrupting it at entirely illogical moments so Ethan can run back and attempt to bond with his daughter (played by True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld) whose sole character traits are not being able to ride a bike and referring to her dad by his first name.
As is the case in the stereotypical action film, the father always assumes he knows what’s best for his daughter, and interrupts a jolly bit of torturing to find out his daughter has GONE TO A NIGHTCLUB, from which he assumes he must save her for some reason. It’s not clearly specified in the dialogue, but the line of thinking here must be “how dare she go out and have a good time with her friends? This is a foreign country and not an American nightclub where sexual assault never happens- upon entry she’ll be beaten and taken to a backroom somewhere”. Just like Liam Neeson’s daughter being kidnapped after being in France for about a minute, Ethan is proved right when she is taken to a backroom somewhere and gang-raped by a bunch of French teenagers. There’s something inherently distasteful about the film suggesting she needs a male figure in her life to get her out of bad situations, even as said male figure was absent until a day earlier.
If the fact that action-thrillers of late trivialise rape as nothing more than a genre “trope” isn’t offensive enough, we haven’t even got to the worst bit. In a lovely father-daughter conversation the morning after the incident, Steinfeld says she’s about to catch a bus to school without changing from the night before. “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that” replies our hero, not-so-subtly suggesting the rape was her fault for dressing suggestively. And just like that, I was physically repulsed that any film could have its lead protagonist, the supposed sympathetic character whom the audience is to identify with, say something so mind-bogglingly offensive to his own daughter. Worse still, he doesn’t change, yet his daughter’s character does over the course of the film – including a repositioning of her pacifist views so they are more in line with his own, trigger happy sensibilities.
In the Luc Besson– produced line of Euro-action thrillers (the so-bad-its-good Taken, the so-bad-its-fucking-awful From Paris with Love) that have done the rounds over the past decade, the recurring theme is of a big star coming to Europe, usually France, to punch foreigners in the face. Here, Besson has managed to outdo himself (he co-wrote the screenplay; Terminator: Salvation director and presumed hater of vowels MCG directs) by finding an odd new outlet of racism, in the shape of a bad guy called the albino. The fact that this is one of the least problematic things in the film should probably give you an indication of just how bad it is. I don’t see every film released in a given year, but if I do see one worse than this, we are clearly approaching the end of days.