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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

La Femme Nikita (1990)


Skills needed to join the CIA? Must have a previous life devoted mainly to crime and drugs.

When her junkie friends are killed by a bunch of cops after a botched pharmacy heist, small, French gal Nikita (Anne Parillaud) decides to take a chomp of out of a cop, and then shoots him moments later. This obviously lands her in the slammer and is going to keep her there for quite some time, possibly even life. Well, that doesn’t happen as Nikita soon dies out of nowhere. Or, so that’s what the rest of the world thinks. The reality of the situation here actually is that Nikita has been thrown into a secret government agency program where she will be trained, nurtured, and taught how to be a working-force of wits, smarts, physicality, and personality. Over time, Nikita does begin to listen and learn, and somehow finds herself changed for the better. However, when she’s out in the real world where she has to make a new name, life, and living for herself, Nikita can’t quite grip what’s really going on. Add on the barbaric missions she has to complete, and you’ve got a very messed-up secret in your life; one that needs to be let out, or else you’ll one day just explode. Poor girl.

Remember the days when Luc Besson actually used to make fun, tense, quality thrillers? Yeah, me neither. Been quite some time, actually; however, there was a time when the dude was considered one of the best working-names in the biz and it showed in the 90’s with this, Leon: The Professional, and his craziest flick of all, The Fifth Element. Sure, there was plenty more, but those three were considered “The Crowned Jewels” of what Besson could do if he had just the right amount of money, so he could service his audience with just the right amount of gun-play, blood, and violence. And for that, I’m forever grateful. However, I still can’t get past the fact of how overrated I feel like this one is.

Yup, I already know a lot of people are going to gunning for the Comment Section after I just dropped that bomb, but people, please do bear with me here. I have my reasons, and understandable ones, too. Or at least I hope they are, I don’t know, you make the call and let me know.

"I'll teach you to blast your loud music, hobo across the street!"

“I’ll teach you to blast your loud music, hobo across the street!”

Anywho, what I liked about this flick from the beginning was it’s mood. First of all, Besson opens up this flick with a dimly-lit scene of a bunch of French punks robbing and gun-dueling a bunch of cops. Automatically, this starts off a hectic battle where bullets are exchanged, curse words are thrown out, and people begin to drop like flies. It’s fun, exciting, and a little bit scary. It had me expecting the best from Besson, in terms of his action-thriller mode, but then suddenly, something changed with this movie; something I was not expecting in the least bit, but surprisingly liked and thought it was a nice touch. After Nikita gets locked-up and publicly “killed”, she then is sent to ease her time and pain away on a project where she has to become one bad-ass bitch, that has to fight, kill, and smart her way through each and every mission they throw at her. Or at least get ready for the missions they will throw at her, because don’t forget: She is in-training and she has to gear-up for what’s in store for her once she walks out and gets ready to live the rest of her life, or what’s left of it anyway.

Doesn’t sound different at all, right? In fact, you could probably just call it a “rip-off” of Oldboy, despite Oldboy being released almost 17 years after this one, but that’s irrelevant, right? A rip-off is a rip-off, no matter how obvious or subtle, right?

Well, what’s so different about this movie’s approach to the way it handles its middle-half, is that Besson lays low on the action, blood, and dirty stuff, and just gives us a heartwarming, honest, and sometimes funny tale of a trashy girl who was always coked-up on her mind, and is now getting a chance to make a difference in this world, even if it just to kill other people, for reasons unknown. And this probably goes on for a whole hour or so, and it works. It actually really works, I’d say. Besson knows how to write interesting characters, give us reasons to care about them, and make it even easier to wonder when they’re all going to meet up again, and that’s where I feel like this movie was really in it’s zone. There were some tense, action-y moments here and there, in between all of the lovey-dovey stuff, but still worked and kept me watching.

And then, as saddened as I may be to say it, something bad happens to this movie. Not only does Besson lose a little grip on the pacing of his story, but he also loses all sense of what makes a story plausible, or hell, easy to understand. Without spoiling too much and giving it all away, after Nikita succeeds on a couple of jobs, she’s granted the opportunity to work her own mission, with her own crew, and by her own ways. So, in that case, rather than being a chick who does little missions, no matter how risky or easy, she now has become a total pro at it; so professional that she’s given her own assignment and chance to call of the shots. That’s fine and all, but it didn’t make much sense to me, especially considering how up-tight and legitimate this secret agency seemed to be.

But okay, whatever. That’s a little nit-picky I guess, at least the action was solid, right? Well, sort of yes and sort of no. “Yes”, because Besson can make any action sequence, whether it be involving a gun, a car, or just the normal, straight-up fist-a-cuffs, worth watching and thrilling; however, I have to say “no” as well, mainly due to the fact that it comes out nowhere, starts up, ends, comes out of nowhere again, starts up, ends, and then continues the same cycle for awhile, until the movie ends on a total whimper that made me wonder if the movie was over, or if my Crackle account was fucking up or something. Seriously, I sat there for a good 2 minutes wondering just when the rest of this movie was going to pop-up and be shown to me, but little did I know that 2 minutes was exactly how long the credits were. So basically, I just sat there staring at a blank-screen when all was said and done, and it left me feeling blue,

It's like college all over again. Except with more dudes lying on the floor ready for Round 2.

It’s like college all over again. Except less dudes lying on the floor ready for Round 2.

I get that a lot of people probably like the ending because it comes and it goes, in a not-so dramatic way that we’re not used to seeing with these loud, big-budget, insane action-thrillers, but this was almost too anti-climactic and sudden for it’s own good. It leaves so many questions just dangling in the air, which is usually a good thing for any movie, especially one where so much still hangs in the balance, but it sort of just pissed me off here. Liked the idea of ending the story on a more emotional note than I would have ever expected from the opening-sequence, but seriously, it just happened, and that was it. May not piss others off and if that’s the case, then so be it. I’m always glad to not follow the pack, even if it going to make me a tad bit unpopular amongst some.

Thankfully though, the saving grace to all of my anger was the leading performance from Anne Parillaud as the aptly-titled, Nikita. Parillaud wasn’t doing much for me in the beginning because she just seemed too punky and brash for her own good, but once she starts to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that there are better things in life out there worth living and fighting for, then I began to see a softer side to her character, one that didn’t just come naturally. Through time, we see bits and pieces of who she really is, the sweet, soft, and innocent gal that wants love and happiness, come out and shine in ways that just made me smile along with her. The scene where she kicks some dude in the face, only to do a little shake-and-bake to a symphonic song? Yeah, that’s the crowning-achievement of her performance in this movie and it continued to get better and better as her story started to develop more, and as we learned more about who she really was, and the reasons why. I felt like they could have explored more of who she was from the past, rather than just the present and nothing but, but it’s a little nit-pick of mine, and I think I’ve had enough of them already, so I’ll let it slide.

But also, don’t get me wrong, Nikita is a pretty kick-ass character. I mean that in that literal and figurative sense as well. She does some nice booty-kicking to people who deserve it, and doesn’t shy-away from the real danger, when the going gets going. For that, I give more credit to Besson for actually writing us a female character in an action-movie and actually allowing her to be more bad-ass than most of the dudes. Well, with the exception of “The Cleaner”, played by Jean Reno, who is basically Leon, before Leon. He’s got the look, the talk, the style, and the mastery-skills of silencers, exactly like Leon, but he’s not. Still though, the guy’s just as bad-ass Nikita, if not more and shows us why he deserved his own, way better movie. Hey, what can I say? I’m a big Natalie Portman fan!

Consensus: Though it’s not the slam-bang, action-thriller some may expect coming from the mind of Luc Besson, La Femme Nikita is still a nice mix of drama, heart, and violence, but by the end, doesn’t work so well juggling all three elements, nor does it know how it end itself on a note that makes everybody happy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"What did you say about platonic friendships between 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds being still considered creepy?!?!?"

“What did you say about platonic friendships between 12-year-olds and 40-year-olds being still considered creepy?!?!?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

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21 responses to “La Femme Nikita (1990)

  1. ninvoid99 September 11, 2013 at 4:05 am

    I think this film is one of Besson’s best films as it showed not just a sense of style but creating something that is full of humor and such. Something the U.S. remake “Point of No Return” couldn’t really do.

  2. thomas4infosoc September 11, 2013 at 4:33 am

    I think I actually prefer Nikita to Leon, mostly because of it’s atmosphere, the emotional fragility of almost all characters (yes, Jean Reno excluded). I love the anti-climatic ending, I could watch that over and over (and did, actually, I remember). My brief notes on the film: http://thomas4cinema.com/2011/09/11/la-femme-nikita-luc-besson-1990/

  3. Jordan Rath September 11, 2013 at 5:17 am

    If you haven’t/don’t already, I suggest you watch the TV show Nikita. Probably the best telling of this story that there is and an incredibly smart spy show overall.

  4. Three Rows Back September 11, 2013 at 6:55 am

    Ah, an old classic! Not seen this in years. You’ve got me all nostalgic, great write up.

  5. greercn September 11, 2013 at 9:00 am

    You made me think. I watch these movies whenever they are on TV but I don’t own the DVDs. Certainly, there are many stylish scenes featuring beautiful people, but it all fails to charm me. Great review.

  6. Whit's Movie Reviews September 11, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I’ve only seen The Professional. Maybe I’ll check this on out, but it’s obviously not as good as people say. Terrific review!

  7. Dale Smurthwaite September 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

    How do you think the Hollywood version of this stacks up? The Assassin….its a film I enjoy, but I think I prefer the original version. Thoughts?

  8. The Hot Rod September 13, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    I never really got this story, in either this version or the American remake. Just didn’t think it was believable, and I found the character of Nikita too absurd to make much sense.

    I really must rematch these at some point…..

  9. Thaddeus September 15, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Yes, this is one of Besson’s best films. The guy seemed so full of promise, just from this movie alone – but none of us could predict that he’d make a few big flops (after 5th Element) and would then retire to do more producing than directing or writing.

    I think it’s best to look at this film in context. People didn’t make movies like this at this time, nor was France considered a prime creator of tight thrillers with great action scenes. It’s very interesting to see European sensibilities added onto the type of story that you’d expect from American cinema.

    Anne is really on form, and she works to sell this story, even if there are lots of montage-type jumps tin time that represent her rising up the ranks. And I have to have great respect for any action/thriller that will devote that much time to character, and yet also bring us inventive and beautifully-filmed fight scenes.

    Man, Besson looked like such a promising auteur then, and I would’ve bet serious $ that he’d have far more than a handful of solid films to his credit by now…

  10. Pingback: BEST CINEMA SCENE EVER #5 « BEST CINEMA EVER

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