Catching Up: “La Femme Nikita (1990)”

Some films have such a legacy, it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. If you’re lucky, the experience will be exactly what you expected it to be and worth getting excited about. With films that are of the cult variety, having a certain legacy may not actually mean a whole lot. The hype could be just that, hype. It’s really all up in the air.

The Samuel Goldwyn Company film “La Femme Nikita”, is not at all the type of film I expected it to be.

This action thriller stars Anne Parillaud (“Delicate Gravity (Shoert 2013)”, “What the Day Owes the Night”), Jean-Hugues Anglade (“Suburra”, “Cafard”), Tcheky Karyo (“Bell & Sebastian: The Adventure Continues”, “The Missing”), Jeanne Moreau (“La talent de mes amis”, “Le tour billion de Jeanne”), Jean Reno (upcoming “Les Visiteurs: La Revolution”, “The Squad”), and Jacques Boudet (“Le Chappeau de Mitterrand”, “The Childhood of a Leader”).

The film was written and directed by Luc Besson (“Lucy”, “The Family”).

The film originally opened in France on Feb. 21, 1990 and eventually opened on March 8, 1991 in the U.S.

I don’t know how long I’ve been meaning to see this film, but it’s been long enough. I also don’t know when I even first heard about this film. I hadn’t heard of the TV series from 1997, until it was off the air, so it couldn’t have been before then. Somehow I did learn of this film and have always been intrigued by it and the other remakes that have come since. For me, most notably, the recent iteration “Nikita” on The CW (which I loved!) was what had me excited about this film and its legacy. I even learned that some of this film’s DNA can be found in the classic drama “Alias”, which is cool, even though it had me shocked at first. Now that I’ve seen the original film, well, I don’t know what I feel anymore.

I feel… I feel… what do I feel?

I feel let down.

I just expected a hell of a lot more. This expectation was quite high. I was expecting to have problems with the subtitles, but didn’t, which is itself not surprising. Foreign films and subtitles don’t bother me like they do other people.

I just had a problem with the overall final film. The individual bits that came together to deliver this final film couldn’t outweigh or overshadow the collective terribleness that is this classic film. These things happen. And even though I didn’t come away fully amazed by the film, I’m not only glad that I got to see it, but I find that there’s a strong chance I may want to watch it again. Not all things need to make sense. Deal with it.

So, what was wrong with it?

A few things, which really matter, as I thought they equally hurt the experience. The action in this film was below standard and the character development was badly managed, and yet, wonderful to see.

The action was decent, and individually, kind of exciting, but it was only for really short bursts. The excitement level never could get that high and thus couldn’t be maintained. Sadly, I got it deep into my head that these would be incredible and worthwhile! Exhilarating even, but they never came close. However, that having been said, I had to take a moment after watching the film and think. Since this film came out, 26 years have come along and delivered many more action films that have, more or less, continually raised the bar in action sequences of all sorts. So, in some ways, it’s easy to see how I was so easily let down. I expected the kinds of well choreographed work that comes out these days, but got something less than inspired. I mean, look at Besson’s most recent film, “Lucy”. It had even less traditional action than this film, and yet was considerably more exciting. Than again, perhaps it’s also because the action sequences in this film were actually pretty terrible.

In action films, character development or even a tiny bit of insight, is something that’s seldom done well, if at all. In this case, it was done to death. So much so that I wondered when they’d put the stick down and stop with the beating. At some point it just became to be too much and it really threw off the flow of a film that I thought would have far more action and suspense. Thrilling moments! But, on the flip side, I actually was able to become invested in who Nikita is and see how this new world changed her. It was pretty good. But, as with the action, there’s been so much more in other films and TV shows, that it’s not hard to see why I was let down by this too. I don’t even have to consider other films and TV, all I need to do is look at the growth in one season of the new “Nikita”, to see how this film is lacking. Granted, that comparison is itself not completely fair. TV can do so much more than film can. Besson tried, so I’ll give him that, but I feel it still could’ve been better executed.

Man, I can’t believe that time and creativity could be the reason for not liking this film as much. If I were talking about how dated this film is (which it doesn’t seem to be), that’d be one thing. Since this film had a cool ‘90s vibe going for it, including the bits of score that came in and out and were fun, I don’t feel like it is, and it does help this film a bit as it allows this film to be kind of quirky and fun.

Not all films are going to live up to expectations, particularly when they’re considerably older films. But sometimes, you just have to accept that and live with what you have. This film may not have wowed me, but it still kept me mostly entertained and that’s hard enough to achieve with older films. Now having seen it, I can appreciate it, and Besson, as well as understand why people thought it a good property to redo. Before this, I had no true reason to dislike the newest incarnation of this story, and I still don’t, but I am in awe of what the creatives were able to do. Take something familiar and expand so much, and manage it be fresh and exciting! Doing all things that this film only dreamed of achieving.


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