La Femme Nikita (1991) Movie Review

“La Femme Nikita” is the movie that catapulted French action director Luc Besson to international stardom, as well as convincing the world the French were capable of more than just moody films about the nature of humanity and all that other good stuff. “Nikita” proved so successful that it was remade into an American film starring Bridget Fonda, the title changed to “The Point of No Return”. That version proved equally successful, paving the way for a long-running series that was filmed in Canada and shown on the USA network.

The original “La Femme Nikita” stars Anne Parillaud as a drug addict convicted of murder. Her sentence: become the property of the French Government. Slowly but surely, Nikita is trained in the ways of the spy — to kill, to seduce, and to act like a lady. Upon graduation, she’s cast out into the world, with only one instruction: wait for the phone call that will activate her. Quickly, Nikita realizes that life working for the government as an assassin is filled with pitfalls, but to leave means death, especially when her mentor shows up in her life again.

The American version with Fonda follows the original closely, but with one big exception that completely disregards the original movie’s primary theme of redemption and second chances. In the Fonda version Nikita didn’t commit the murder, but was just there when the murder took place. The original had Nikita actually committing the murder, and doing so quite gleefully. With one little re-write, everything about the Nikita character changes for the worst.

Luckily we’ll always have the original to watch over and over again.

“La Femme Nikita” is, first and foremost, a stylish action movie. It’s very well filmed and a lot of its action scenes are incredibly inspired. On her first assignment, an assassination in a restaurant, Nikita discovers that the exit isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and has to improvise; she does so by diving down a ventilation shaft in the kitchen to avoid a fireball and bullets!. (This scene was copied scene for scene in the Fonda version, and continues to be copied by other movies. It’s that inspiring.)

The plot itself is very easy to follow and oddly very realistic. After being transformed from a strung-out junkie with no prospects and taught everything from table manners, dressing, make-up — in a word, how to behave in civilized society — Nikita is released.

Of course, she had to prove that she could whack anyone the government sent her to take out first. But having proven that, she’s released back into the general population with only one order — one day, some day, she’ll get a call from the agency and she’ll have to obey to the letter.

This little information becomes a great source of suspense, since any phone call that Nikita receives out in the “real world” is potentially the call that sends her to commit cold-blooded murder.

“La Femme Nikita” is filled with terrific action and great performances by its leads, and writer/director Luc Besson deserves all the accolades. “Nikita” was kicking ass before it was fashionable for women to be kicking asses in TV shows like “Alias.”

Luc Besson (director) / Luc Besson (screenplay)
CAST: Anne Parillaud …. Nikita
Marc Duret …. Rico

Buy La Femme Nikita on DVD