From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Friday, May 14, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Professional Killers
La Femme Nikita

Maybe Luc Besson just has a fetish for the lone wolf types?

Before Luc graced us with what I believe to be the ultimate cinematic professional killer in Leon, Besson did this film about a woman who becomes an assassin via a very different route.

Anne Parillaud is Nikita, a strung out drug addict. She is with several other junkies when their attempt to break into and steal a fix from a pharmacy goes wrong. Nikita is the sole survivor. She shoots a cop in the head, killing him. Sentenced to hard time in prison, she is given an unlikely second chance by a mysterious man named Bob (Tcheky Karyo). He advises Nikita that she can either agree to submit to specialized training to work for the government as a special agent. Or she can inhabit the plot in which she was "buried" as the result of a "tranquilizer overdose".

Given the choice, she goes to work for Bob. It turns out that after some bumps in the training, she has a predisposition towards the profession. Once training is completed, she is released to the outside world, on call to execute jobs for the agency as required. As she tries to reconcile a normal life with her new profession, she finds conflicts that force her to make a choice between one life or the other.

Right out of the gate, I have to rave on Parillaud as Nikita. The woman is hell on wheels from the first moment you see her off her drug addled lows. Fierce, aggressive, and very anti-establishment, she plays the role just right early for the audience to appreciate the transformation she undergoes to become an agent. Part of her training has to be to learn how to behave as a proper lady. Celebrated French actress Jeanne Moreau acts as Nikita's instructor in that regard, and it's this training that proves to be the most difficult as well as the most subtle. There's a scene where she first tries to get Nikita to just smile naturally. Parillaud looks so uncomfortable smiling you wonder if she's ever done it before. It makes the scene darkly funny, and helps you understand just how far she has to go.

Parillaud continues to excel once her training is complete and she's unleashed on the outside world. Her first run through a supermarket as she gets settled in her cover is highly entertaining as she seems ready to overdose on life itself. It's also there that she meets Marco, the man who will become her lover, fiancee, and anchor to her humanity. All the conflicts between her public persona and her professional one start with him. There's a really well played awkward tension as Nikita finds her love for Marco conflicting with her work in very unexpected places.

The film itself has a really beautiful flow to it start to finish. There's all sorts of dark humor pervading the first couple of acts that fades to a very existential sadness by the end. The resolution of the story may seem unsatisfactory to some, simply because it is so open ended (and not in a "ready for sequel" type of way). But there is an undercurrent of French existentialism that forms the basis for the more serious moments, and as such I think the ending is very right for what comes before.

There's a part of me that thinks that somewhere, sometime, Jennifer Garner needs to write a letter of thanks to Besson. Alias probably doesn't happen if this movie is not made in it's own unique way. There was an attempt at an Americanized remake called Point of No Return starring Bridget Fonda that doesn't have nearly the bite that this film does, trying to hard to be stylish. The short lived TV series on USA starring Peta Wilson as Nikita came a bit closer to capturing the real flair of the film. But in the end, there are contenders and pretenders. Nikita is a contender like few others.

That's it for retrospectives this week. Next week there will be a walk down the 80s action genre staple of One Man Armies. Also, may have a review of the new film Troy up late tonight or tomorrow.

Catch y'all later.