Who would have thought that when Luc Besson made this French action thriller in 1990 that it would become a phenomenon spawning an American and Japanese remake along with a television spin off. We can’t forget where it all began, and this is it. It’s an action movie with more heart and soul than one may think, and this may, unfortunately, lead people to believe that Nikita is boring. They couldn’t be more wrong.
After murdering a p0lice officer during a robbery gone awry, drug addict Nikita (Anne Parillaud) has the choice of either death or committing herself to the French government and work for them as a sleeper agent. She trains in a secret facility with her mentor Bob (Tchèky Karyo) and after years of training is released back into the world with a code name: Josephine. She soon sparks a relationship with an unassuming Marco (Jean-Hughes Anglade), but is just a suddenly called for assignment, sending her now stable life careening out of control.
This movie is written and directed by Luc Besson, who I would call a powerhouse of the action genre having directed films such as Leon: The Professional and written The Transporter series, Taken, and From Paris with Love. This is one of his older movies, but it still helped redefine a genre after the macho action films of the 80s. Audiences were treated to a different kind of hero in Nikita, a social misfit turned sleeper agent who is a woman. That’s the big thing. Gun toting women weren’t the norm at this point in time. In this way, Nikita can be seen as inspiration for films like Kill Bill. In that light, much respect has to be given to this film.
Nikita is special, though, for how it handles the story. Instead of the movie being all about Nikita going into various foreign locales and shooting anything that moves, the viewer gets a character study. The character arc is immense. A drug addict becomes an agent who then yearns for a normal life. It was great watching a character as deep as this change and progress as the story went along at it’s relatively slow pace. It gave me a lot to think about when it comes to the actual stress of classified government work, the treatment of these employees, and the ethics behind their missions.
With this impressive character arc comes an impressive performances and memorable action set pieces. Anne Parillaud knocks it out of the park giving, I think, on of the best performances in an action movie. She’s both funny and disturbed, but if you want to talk disturbed, look no further than Jean Reno as Victor the Cleaner. He is brutally violent and doesn’t seem to be affected by it. You’ll see him in a list of best action characters if I’m to ever make one.
The action scenes are great without being crazy. While they aren’t totally down to earth, they do stay in a realm of realism that isn’t very common in modern action movies. There is lots of shooting and some blood, but never is there ridiculous combat and jumping off walls. It gave the film a more realistic tone that worked better with the themes and the characters. But don’t get me wrong. I love over the top action.
Nikita is an action movie that surpasses most. It is intelligent, emotional, and real. Don’t mistake the slow pace as boring. If you look into the characters and invest yourself into the plot, you will have a great time with this movie. If all you want is gunplay and explosions, the look to something else. This is a thinker’s action movie that proves the Luc Besson is this genre’s master story teller.