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January 21, 2003

La Femme Nikita (1990)

Posted by Mike on January 21, 2003 11:46 PM

The rough sketch of the story is compelling: street thug Nikita faces death/life in prison or induction into a clandestine branch of the government tasked with assassination. The execution is fine. It's less frenetic than Besson's later The Fifth Element (1997), more akin to Léon a.k.a. The Professional (1994). It ends up being a fun variant on the spy flick (endowed with a post-Cold War sense) with some chewing to do on the nature of the main character.

I wondered, momentarily, why this was remade into the unhappy Point of No Return (1993), and decided to pass on the easy call, which would have something to do with American audiences and impatience with subtitles. Instead, I think it has something to do with the main character's underlying and persistent unpleasantness. Luc Besson's Nikita is uncomfortably wild and explosive in a way that Bridget Fonda never musters in the remake, and this is a strength. But it makes the character unconventional in a way that we only tend to allow in the form of "psycho cops with hearts of gold" in the US. Nikita might not have a heart of gold, and she may or may not be on the side of the angels. It's also a strange action movie, to the extent our protagonist is only mildly competent when real pressure begins.

I'm calling it a three star, but it's a high three.