Paleo Retiree writes:
I don’t have much feeling for, let alone interest in, current movies, and recently I’ve been seeing no more than two or three new movies each year. So you’d be nuts to take my reactions to current movies any more seriously than you’d take my opinions about current pop music — where popular culture goes, I’m one seriously out-of-it old duffer. All that said …
This movie struck me as adequately absorbing in the current Paris-set, school-of-Luc-Besson, thriller-for-adults mode. I’ll try to keep my description of the plot setup vague and basic. Costner’s an aging but notoriously effective killer for the CIA who gets a freelance assignment that offers him some potentially serious benefits; meanwhile, after years of devoting himself to his job, he sets about trying to reconcile with his smart and busy ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) and especially with his moody teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), whom he hasn’t been in touch with for ‘way too long.
The school-of-Besson style (full of hustle, tautness, cobblestones and bald-headed tough guys) has become such a brand that it’s hard not to catch yourself wondering when Jason Statham and Liam Neeson are going to show up. But, despite the familiarity, the film seemed to me decent enough for what it is. In the film’s favor: the action, design and photography are chilly, dark and stylish, and the film isn’t marred by excessive shakeycam. Costner may be a lot more gravel-voiced and weatherbeaten than he was the last time I saw him, but the wife assures me that he’s still sexy. And I like what I imagine Costner stands up for as a performer. I may be imagining things, but Costner seems to me to want, in an era of Boomer and post-Boomer irreverence and undercutting, to embody a positive masculine ideal — sensitive, yes, and proficient with a quip, but also macho (in a non cartoonish way) and Waspy-heroic: a rueful Gary Cooper for a world that no longer respects Cooper-esque virtues. Amber Heard, as the dynamo careerist/dominatrix who, completely implausibly, gives Costner his assignment and supervises his progress, is amusing in a wonderfully over-the-top way. She wears her sleek outfits and big wigs con molto brio, and she turns up the heat on poor square Costner, toying with him mercilessly. (She’s so fatale a femme that you wonder why on earth she needs Costner to do all that killing for her.) She reminded me a lot of Sharon Stone in Stone’s just-prior-to-“Basic-Instinct” days: alluring in a super-driven, hard-as-nails kind of way, yet able to summon up a convincing amount of purring softness too, and not yet the camp dragon lady she so quickly turned into after becoming a genuine star. As her opposite number, Connie Nielsen is the fetching, easy-to-relate-to and proficient mature thing she nearly always is. I’ve never understood why Connie Nielsen isn’t a star.
Not in the film’s favor: this is one of the Besson team’s lazier scripts, bizarrely devoid of any decently ingenious plot twists. (And a thriller without a well-turned plot twist or two is a sad thing indeed.) A big surprise is that (spoiler alert) the film’s two main arcs — Costner’s brutal assignment, and his attempt to win over his family — never intersect. In other words — and spoiler alert again — it never once occurs to the bad guys to threaten Costner’s family. WTF?
My biggest problem with the film, though, was that it hangs on one of my least-favorite recent-movie tropes: the neglectful dad who wants to win back his resentful adolescent daughter. Who was it who thought that the audience for a sexy, Paris-set, high-voltage thriller would want to spend half its time watching Costner shuffle, apologise and swallow his pride while the actress playing his daughter sulks and disses him? The writing in these scenes isn’t half bad, the two actors are very skillful, and there’s a pleasing anti-feminist final point to them — the daughter doesn’t get around to respecting her dad until he puts on a suit (ie., until he acts like a grownup). Yay to that. But can we please have a break from guilty dads apologizing to their angry-yet-vulnerable daughters for, say, the next 30 years?