La Femme Nikita
Screenplay : Luc Besson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1990
Stars : Nikita (Anne Parillaud), Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade), Bob (Tcheky Karyo), Amande (Jeanne Moreau), Jean Reno (Victor the Cleaner)
Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita" is a clever, visually stunning French thriller about a secret government agency that transforms a nowhere-bound, murderous junkie into an efficient hitman, er, hitwoman.
The Nikita of the title is a true femme fatal played with ferocious intensity and whetted sexuality by Anne Parillaud. When we first meet her, she is a strung-out druggie traveling with a band of street punks. They break into a pharmacy and wind up in a gun fight with the police that costs them their lives. Nikita survives, but winds up in court for shooting a policeman point-blank in the head. She's sentenced to life in prison, but she winds up in the care of a secret government agency. You see, Bob (Tcheky Karyo), one of the crafty government agents, thinks she has great potential. He believes he can mold her reckless abandon into killer precision.
After being informed that her suicide and burial have been staged, she's given a choice: she can either become a government assassin, or be killed for real. Of course, she chooses to become an assassin, but it takes four years of extensive training in weapons, fighting tactics, computers, and even femininity and its advantages (taught by French screen siren Jeanne Moreau, no less) before she is released into the world.
Nikita is given an apartment, an allowance, and a fake job as a nurse at the local hospital. In return, she agrees to drop everything when the phone rings and an assignment is given. On the streets she goes by the name of Marie, but when the voice on the phone refers to her as Josephine, you know what's coming.
Before she knows it, she's given her first assignment to assassinate a political enemy in the middle of a crowded restaurant. The ensuing scene is a spectacular, with Nikita gunning down the required target, then finding herself in an explosive shoot-out in the kitchen. Besson is in love with big guns, and "La Femme Nikita" delivers with automatic rifles, heavy-gauge machine guns, laser-sighted rifles, and even rocket launchers. The whole thing has the feel of a neon-lit comic book, with nothing ever being taken too seriously.
The film hits a snag when Nikita develops a relationship with Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade), an unassuming grocery store clerk. Unfortunately, the film doesn't take time with their relationship -- they meet, have dinner and sleep together on the first date, then wham! it's six months later and l'amour is in the air between them. Because the rest of the film hinges on the conflicts between Nikita's secret life as an assassin and her desire to live a normal life with Marco, more time should have been spent to solidify their relationship.
But never mind. If Besson is crass with the human element, he's explosive with the action. He also has a great sense of irony, such as when Marco is lamenting the fact that Nikita won't tell him anything about her past, while she is in the next room, training her laser scope on a victim through the window. Sometimes these scenes require a little more than a simple suspension of disbelief, but it's all in the fun. Besson never wants us to take any of this seriously -- everything, from the super secret government agency to a heartless "clean-up man" played with stone intensity by Jean Reno, is over-the-top. Besson is having fun with conspiracy theories and spy cliches, and it works because he has a light touch and a sense of humor.
Besson is a visualist, and the cinematography by Thierry Arbogast helps lend to the ludicrous comic book feel. Add to that an effectively pounding, metallic score by Eric Serra, and you have a tightly wound, explosive film that delivers more than is required. Just be sure to leave you common sense at the door.
©1997 James Kendrick