Sunday, April 14, 2013


(April 1991, U.S.)

I suppose that motion pictures supporting idea of transforming misfits, rejects and total losers into lethal military or government killing machines could be attributed back to a film like THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), but I'm sure if I did some extra homework and research, I'd find that popular theme dating back to earlier World War II films of the era or perhaps earlier. So it's safe to say that prospect is nothing too original for the big screen. This time, though, French filmmaker Luc Besson is centering that theme around a young teenage female criminal Nikita (played by Anne Parillaud) who is recruited to work as an assassin for the French government.

When we first meet Nikita, one can't help but wonder how she's managed to live as long as she has. This girl is one serious and psychotic junkie! Even when she's captured and sentenced to death (supposedly), her reaction is violent and almost incomprehensible. When given to the option of death or government service, she's not exactly keen on either option. When she does finally come around, we're taken ahead by serveral years so see how she's progressed. Rather than be shown how she's developed as a physical specimen of govermental assassination skills, we're rather given a glimpse of her physical beauty; she hasn't just cleaned up her act, but rather been transformed from a sick junkie to a true femme fatale! As her female trainer explains early in the film, it's her beauty and femininity that will act as her ultimate weapon in life.

As action film cliche would dictate, Nikita (code name: Josephine) doesn't disappoint in blasting the shit out of her targets. What really surprises us the first time around is to learn that her planned escape route has been intentionally compromised by a brick wall outside a window to see if she'll ultimately "sink or swim". She swims, of course, but not without getting real pissed off in the process. Nonetheless, Nikita has finally "grown up", graduated and is ready to be releases unto the unsuspecting world. As a private citizen of Paris, she lives a quiet, modest life with her fiancé Marco (played by Jean-Hugues Anglade). However, whenever the phone rings and the voice on the other end says, "Josephine", the smile of happiness and contentedness immediately vanishes and it's time for this serious bitch to go to work. The viewer is left to not only enjoy the action and the thrills, but also to wonder how long it's going to be before Nikita's two lives come crashing into each other. When that finally does happen, it would appear that Nikita will simply vanish into the wind, never to be seen again. That's a fine, ambiguous premise and it's one that I would have been perfectly happy to accept. However, Hollywood couldn't resist giving us their inferior American version called POINT OF NO RETURN (1992) with Bridget Fonda in the title role. USA Network television couldn't resist their own series of the same name in 1997. The CW network had their own version of the premise in 2010. For Christ sakes, how many times can you tell the same damn story over and over, people??? The line must be drawn somewhere!

Besides a few Japanese films from John Woo's early career, I must confess I haven't seen nor have I come to expect too many subtitled action thrillers, particularly from the French. If Luc Besson's original film of LA FEMME NIKITA is the only example I'm ever likely to see of its sort, then I'll be happy to walk away with the memories of the hardcore action and intense thrills it provides. I need no other versions!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Bob: "You died Saturday at five pm. The prison doctor confirmed suicide after an overdose of tranquillizers. You're buried in Maisons-Alfort, row 8, plot 30."
Nikita: "Titi. That's Titi!"
Bob: "I work, let's say, for the government. We've decided to give you another chance."
Nikita: "What do I do?"
Bob: "Learn. Learn to read, walk, talk, smile and even fight. Learn to do everything."
Nikita: "What for?"
Bob: "To serve your country."
Nikita: "What if I don't want to?"
Bob: "Row 8, Plot 30."

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