By Ben McKay (Australia)
The most illuminating problem with contemporary action films that is that too many elements are evidently rushed. For instances, let’s use the generic blueprint: usually, they begin with the opening action sequence to grab our attention; then we have the title credits with the introduction of the plot; then the minimal characterization of the central characters; then the film essentially relies on monumental action sequences to grab our attention, but the facts are that we simply do care about the characters. Prejudice? Well I do know my comments sound exactly like it, but the sad truth is that this is, fundamentally, what most action movies resort to.
Initially seeing Luc Besson within his second outing Leon: The Professional, it was obvious that he is a director that treats the action genre with its merits, and that he identifies the key elements that makes an action movie more rewarding: put characters before action, and in this respect, when the action occurs, the audience actually cares about the consequences of the characters. Where Leon was told like a fantasy with glaring melodrama, La Femme Nikita hard edge immensely elevates the subject matter into a rewarding experience. An action film that displays a woman searching for an identity in a world that obviously rejects her.
The films central focus is the psychotic Nikita (Parillaud). When we meet Nikita, she is a drug addict with a gang of dead-beats looking for their next hit. On initial appearance, Nikita contains animalistic qualities; she is psychotic, delusional and blatantly immoral as she shoots an innocent cop without hesitation. It’s quite an interesting route that Besson utilizes, introducing his heroine as a monster, then within the next thirty minutes attempting to make us sympathize with her anti-social qualities. It’s a tricky situation, but Besson seems to pull it off with ease as Nikita is sentenced to death and surrounded by isolation.
Of course, this is only twenty minutes into the film, so we know she isn’t going to die. As Nikita awakes from her purposed death, she is greeted by Bob (Karyo), a government spy that explains Nikita has the choice to gain an occupation as a trained-elite assassin, along with learning society’s commodities. As brutal as it may sound, La Femme Nikita is a poignant character study. We watch this woman start at the rock-bottom, both physically and mentally, and slowly begins her internal and external transformation. She is a lost soul continually searching for an identity as she attempts (and eventually to great effect) to gain and understand the appearance and notions of femininity.
Subjectively, the sole reason why this film contains such an emotional effect is solely due to Anne Parillaud’s performance; an actor that conveys with raw ferocity Nikita’s struggles: from her beginnings as dead-beat, drop-kick inferior junkie; to her attempts and changes with the ropes of femininity; then to her life outside closed walls as she attempts to balance her new love while fulfilling her occupation; Parrillaud is amazing as a heroine, and what more logical sequence that displays the essential struggles of a heroine than assassinating someone, while dressed in undies, conversely talking to her boyfriend (Anglade) about the struggles of their relations.
And of course there is action, but not normal action, but rather action injected with stylistic European flare. As stated, it’s ever-so welcomed how Besson treats the subject matter; he allows plenty of time in exploring his central protagonist to point when the audience form an emotional investment, which in turn (similar to John Ford’s Stagecoach) develops an emotional response to the characters actions and challenges, we actually care of the consequences they may suffer during and action sequence. Furthermore, while the plot may sound fantastic and wholly unrealistic (which it is), Besson keeps the action grounded.
Consider the following sequence: Nikita receives a call for her first job in the outside world. She arrives in room and dresses into a maid’s outfit and is told to wait. Eventually she is given a plate with coffee that is riddled with poison (I think) and delivers it to the room acting as room service. After she completes the task, she comes back to the room and ask “what’s next?” but there isn’t a next, she gets to go home and that’s the point. Ultimately, if referring back to that generic blue-print, the scenario I have just explained contains all elements to an action sequence, however, Besson is attempting to portray the occupation of an assassin in realistic terms; not every mission consist of a gun-fight or hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Missions at times can be subtle, and if I may be so bold, easy.
As for the ending, it seems many have deemed Besson conclusion as underwhelming and anti-climatic. Once again, Besson ending displays that he a class above the rest. He doesn’t want to use a generic climatic gun-fight, but rather tend to drama elements; leaving us with a world where Nikita has become anonymous, and the two-males are (most likely) left in melancholic state over her love. Superb.