Review: “La Femme Nikita” (1990)

Last week’s Netflix selection was “La Femme Nikita”, which is of course the trashy French remake of the famous American action/suspense classic “Point of No Return” featuring Bridget Fonda … oh, no, wait, I’ve got that backwards.  Anyway, “La Femme Nikita” is the story of a homicidally strung-out young woman (Nikita, natch) who is the sole survivor of one seriously botched bloodbath of a robbery attempt. Everyone in her gang dies, the store owner dies, a number of cops die, and this is all in like the first five minutes.  Blood flows liberally.  Cue the stink-eye from my wife.

Instead of going to prison, Nikita is “recruited” (so to speak) into a secret government agency of spies and assassins.  When she emerges three years later, she has been transformed from street harpy into a sort of female James Bond.  The agency sets her up in an apartment in the guise of a normal woman.  But then, something unexpected happens; instead of proceeding into one over-the-top gunfight after another, “La Femme Nikita” turns into something akin to a character study of a woman who slowly realizes that she has something to lose.

This movie is billed as a suspense film, and there are some top-notch action setpieces, most notably the famous battle in a restaurant kitchen that caps off her first assignment.  Oh, and Jean Reno’s appearance as a rather less competent version of Harvey Keitel’s cleaner character from “Pulp Fiction” is a hoot, too.  (I know, I know, “Pulp Fiction” came out later.  But I saw “Pulp Fiction” first.  So there.)  However, these scenes are not actually what the movie is interested in; the heart of the story is what happens between the assassinations and skullduggery and sneaking around.  The final scene is just remarkable, and not at all what I was expecting from my steady diet of American action flicks.

“La Femme Nikita” put my wife to sleep in a little over an hour.   Before she fell asleep she had actually started to pay attention to it, so we had to stop and finish it up later.  After it was over, she pronounced it good, which is high praise coming from her.  (The last film to earn the coveted “good” rating from her was “The Illusionist“.)  Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a little different take on the whole assassination game, this might be a good movie to check out.

Review: “The Illusionist”

So last night we watched The Illusionist, in which the famous magician Tyler Durden (Edward Norton) plays tricks on John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) in an attempt to steal away his putative fiancee, Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), all the while being investigated by the persistent Inspector Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti).

Okay, so none of those characters are actually the ones that are in this film, but that should give you some idea of how twisty this movie is.  Nothing is what it seems, except for the stuff that’s exactly what it seems; it’s up to the viewer to figure out which is which.  Edward Norton is an illusionist in love with a woman waaaay above his station in life, Jessica Biel is some sort of Hungarian noblewoman, Rufus Sewell is a crown prince who wants to use Biel to line up Hungarian support, and Paul Giamatti is an inspector who owes his position to Sewell but is fascinated by Norton’s magic.  I won’t give away any plot details, except to say that Rollie Tyler has got nothing on Eisenheim the Illusionist.

Despite being called The Illusionist, this film might as well be called The Inspector, because Paul Giamatti’s character is actually the most central figure.  This is a good thing, because he’s easily the most interesting person in the movie.  The actors all do fine jobs, especially (no surprise) Giamatti and Norton.  You could put these two in a movie where all they do is make faces at each other and it would probably be riveting.  (Okay, I will admit that I had a little bit of trouble accepting Jessica Biel as a duchess; but she didn’t embarrass herself at all playing opposite three heavyweights, and she certainly looks good in period garb.)

My wife stayed awake for the entire movie.  In one sitting.  Starting at 8:30pm, which is pretty close to when she falls asleep even when we’re not watching television.  This could well make The Illusionist the top-rated film of all time, or at least, since I started posting reviews …