La Femme Nikita
Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, Patrick Fontana
Directed by Luc Besson
Very Little in this French thriller makes sense, but it's all savagely engrossing because of the performance of Anne Parillaud in the title role. She's a spellbinder. Writer-director Luc Besson introduces Nikita, a sociopathic punk junkie, in a brutal opening scene in which she joins her strung-out friends in a drugstore robbery. During a graphically violent shoot-out with the police, her pals are slaughtered and Nikita kills a cop. Sentenced to to death, Nikita is reprieved by agreeing to be trained as a government assassin.
Besson's film is a smash in France, as was his last, the irredeemably chuckle-headed Big Blue, which justly flopped across the Atlantic. Nikita should change Besson's luck in America – it's wildly seductive and erotic, and Parillaud has the sizzle to melt any language barriers. I was won over the moment Jeanne Moreau showed up as Amande, a government official supervising Nikita's make-over from guttersnipe to fair lady. Nikita's training in weaponry can't match the femme fatale lessons conveyed simply by watching the legendary Moreau apply lipstick.
After three years in a high-security compound under the tutelage of Amande and Bob, artfully played by Tcheky Karyo as a blend of Henry Higgins and the Terminator, Nikita is sent out into the real world. She's touched when Bob takes her to dinner at a chic restaurant and then momentarily shocked when he hands her a gun and tells her to blow away someone at a table behind her. But Nikita is up to the task. She finds an apartment, a sweet-natured lover in Marco (the charming Jean-Hugues Anglade) and a seemingly normal life – that is, until she is called upon again to do her assassin thing.
Besson proves adept at staging action; one scene in which Nikita sets up her rifle in a hotel bathroom and coolly blows away a target while Marco stands unknowing outside the bathroom door is chillingly tense. But it's the fate of Nikita – both vitalized and victimized by love – that makes the film more than just a dazzling exercise in style. Nikita gets under your skin. Ditto the movie.
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