La Femme Nikita (Day 73)

La Femme NikitaMy Opinion: 6.5 || Stylish action film that’s spawned myriad spin-offs and imitations. The last act is badly muddled, but the foundation is excellent, the thriller elements are well filmed, and it’s a mostly entertaining ride.

TITLE: La Femme Nikita
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
LANGUAGE: French | COUNTRY: France
YEAR: 1990
PROFILE: Action Thriller | 118 minutes | IMDb (7.4)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): Convicted felon Nikita, instead of going to jail, is given a new identity and trained, stylishly, as a top secret spy/assassin.

Viewing Note: This is one of the few movies in this project that’s a re-watch for me. It was the first foreign film I ever saw in a theater (The Varsity – Chapel Hill, NC). It’s a fond memory, which means I have a soft spot for the movie.

Strengths: The movie’s structure and style have been copied so much that it’s easy to lose sight of how vibrant it is. Nikita’s transformation from feral sociopath to refined government agent is entertaining, and Besson makes a strong, if not completely successful, stab at depicting her personal growth. There’s great style and energy at multiple points.

Weaknesses: The ending is a mess. After a superb assassination scene, Nikita is given an assignment that lacks interest and never makes much sense. When it goes awry, Jean Reno shows up as a supposedly skilled “cleaner” whose impulsivity and sloppiness are not credible (inadvertently comical, in fact).

La Femme Nikita

Not only is the mission a disaster, but Nikita’s lack of poise is irritating. It might be realistic as character development, but no action thriller should feature such an unsatisfying climax.

There are other problems too, most notably an odd and jarring  jump in time during Nikita’s training. Besson’s decision to skip the most interesting phase of Nikita’s transformation — when she finally finds discipline and gets good at what she does — is baffling. Better to have traded some of the later romantic elements (decent but not all that compelling) for the interest of actually witnessing Nikita’s maturation.

In a movie like this, you shouldn’t quibble too much about realism, but I need to observe that it’s another entry in the annals of impossibly silent silencers (“thwip, thwip”). And in the dramatic spraying of bullets for no discernible reason. Well, and I should mention that the mode and location of Nikita’s first hit makes no damn sense.

La Femme Nikita

Characters/Performances: Besson almost completely ignores the moral elements of the story. In a better film, we would have seen Nikita wrestling with guilt over her earlier crimes. Instead, she just digs her new life and wishes Bob would stop bugging her to assassinate people.

Best Moment: The Venice assassination scene is superb — tense, good characterization, cool mechanics.

File Under: secret government agencies, assassinations, secret lives, double identities, terrible haircuts