Directed By: Luc Besson
Starring: Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, Patrick Fontana
Tag line: "A new kind of lethal weapon"
Trivia: This movie inspired the 1991 Hong Kong action flick Black Cat, which closely follows the same storyline
At first glance, Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita appears to be the story of a highly trained female assassin. In reality, it’s much more complex, weaving instead the dramatic tale of a deadly killer, one who ultimately discovers that she’s a woman after all.
Nikita (Anna Parillaud), a street junkie sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a police officer, is given a chance to redeem herself when she is ‘volunteered’ by the French government to train as an undercover assassin. Her instructor, Bob (Tcheky Karyo), is firm but fair with his newest pupil, and sees in her the makings of a great secret agent. After three years of preparation (and one very dangerous ‘real-time’ test), Nikita is released into the world with a new identity and the promise that she’ll soon be contacted with the details of her first mission. Suddenly forced into the uneasy role of homemaker, Nikita makes a trip to the local supermarket where she meets Marco (Jean-Hughes Anglade), a cashier. The two strike up a friendship that blossoms into romance, and Nikita falls deeply in love for the first time in her life. But will this new relationship be strong enough to survive the reality of her violent profession?
Despite what you may assume, its various action sequences (which are, truth be told, thrilling as all hell) are not the most impressive aspect of La Femme Nikita. Instead, what I found myself drawn to while watching the movie was the story of Nikita’s transformation, in which a rugged, violent tomboy changed into a gorgeous, elegant lady right before my eyes. Anne Parillaud is pitch perfect as Nikita, equally convincing as a cold-hearted killer and a woman in love. The hate that fills her eyes at the beginning of La Femme Nikita (during an interrogation, she lashes out at a police inspector, stabbing him in the hand with a pen) slowly melts away, replaced by gazes of passion, wonderment, and, eventually, despair. So astonishing was this change that, at first, I thought two different actresses had played the role. It’s a truly remarkable performance.
By the time Nikita’s story reaches its climax, we have witnessed an incredible metamorphosis, but don’t let her new demeanor fool you. The fact remains that, no matter how refined she may appear, Nikita is not someone you’d want to cross. La Femme Nikita is an extraordinary film that works on every level; it is at once exciting, tense, touching and beautiful.