Case Number 00720


Artisan // 1994 // 96 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // September 19th, 2000

The Charge

Sometimes you just need the honesty and security of a whore.

Opening Statement

Killing Zoe was originally intended for release several months ago as a bare bones, pan and scan disc, this was not to the satisfaction of the movie's writer/director Roger Avary and he started an online petition to Artisan to have the film done right. Sure enough and after a flood of emails Artisan was persuaded to go back and re-master Killing Zoe, giving it an anamorphic widescreen transfer. Unfortunately that was all the movie got. Still it's better than pan and scan, right?

Facts of the Case

Zed (Eric Stolz) is an American safecracker in Paris. While there he takes in the sights, spends some time with a stunning and golden-hearted prostitute named Zoe (Julie Delpy), plus finding the time to help his childhood friend Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) rob a bank on Bastille Day.

In the true fashion of the hard-boiled caper film, nothing goes right with everything ending in a messy blood bath.

The Evidence

A movie that achieved almost instant cult status, Killing Zoe is not an easy film to watch. The movie parades the excesses of its characters and quite literally pounds us over the head with them. Avary's movie is a constant assault on the senses.

Avary has written a disturbing work that fairly pulses with a depressing energy. He writes of people who exist only for the moment with no thought of tomorrow or of other people. Consequences are not considered and the only question asked is "how does this affect me?" It is this sense of emotional detachment that runs throughout the movie. It is this atmosphere that pushed me away but also compelled me to keep watching. Call it "Jerry Springer Syndrome," if you like but there is a fascination to see just how low people will go and how far they will fall.

As director, Avary was given his chance to do a film not unlike the movies Scorsese and Coppola made for Roger Corman in the late '60s and '70s. Avary takes this opportunity producer Lawrence Bender gave him and runs with it. The movie is always swinging for the fences and if the film is not a home run, it's surely a standup triple.

If the movie is peopled with characters who are cool and removed from life, Avary, along with Cinematographer Tom Richmond, give the film a fluid visual tone to match. It is this smooth, gliding imagery that carries the movie along. From the postcard tour of Paris, to the almost sweet lovemaking with Zoe and then through the drug crazed night of "living" and culminating with the films bloody final third the two men provide a striking array of images with many shots that linger in the memory. Killing Zoe made an impressive debut for Avary and one that bodes well for future work.

As Zed, Eric Stolz (Jerry Maguire, 2 Days In The Valley) ably portrays the archetype of the calm, detached anti-hero. Looking to come in, do the job and go home, Stolz shows a man who comes to know just how far he has traveled to the edge and in the end is amazed that he is offered a second chance, if not for redemption but for a chance to exist as something other than just himself. One of the more underrated actors working today, Stolz delivers another impressive performance that is well modulated and true to the spirit of the material.

As the venal and violent Eric, French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade (La Femme Nikita, Dark Summer) has the movie's showcase role. Not caring about himself or others, Eric wants what he wants. He has decided he wants money, with simple material wealth being seen as the key to happiness and an escape from the empty hole that is his life. A character of great pain, a man with nothing to live for, he is unable to process his own emotions choosing instead to lash out at the world in whatever form pleases him at that moment. It is a demanding and difficult role but one that Anglade occupies totally. Over the top and excessive, Anglade still manages to make Eric frighteningly real, a chilling reminder that death and destruction can spring from anywhere.

In one of her first English speaking roles comes Julie Delpy (But I'm A Cheerleader, Before Sunrise) as the movie's title role, Zoe. The Alpha Male fantasy girl, she is the hooker who really likes Zed because he gave her an orgasm and of course because they both have Z names. Being the kind of movie this is, it goes without saying that Zoe also works in the bank that is being robbed. Delpy makes Zoe both sweet and strong, willing to kick a little ass when she needs to. The only bit of sunshine in this very dark movie, she is the ray of light that Zed gravitates to for his second chance. As an actress Delpy is incredibly sexual yet also combines a feeling of purity that adds up to some serious star power.

I mentioned earlier that Killing Zoe was originally intended as a pan and scan release but due to the power of the Internet those plans were changed. So here we have a disc that is anamorphic widescreen, maintaining the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Overall it is a strong transfer. The picture handles all of the stylized and over-saturated images that Avary throws our way with relative ease. Colors are dead on truthful with black level appearing solid. Detail is consistently strong, with all of the dimly lit scenes showing a great deal of clarity and depth. If the image has any one big problem it would appear to be with the source material itself. Granted the movie was shot on a fairly low budget but there is enough dirt and scratches visible to call attention to the picture. Maybe I'm off base and it was the filmmakers' intent but somehow I don't think so.

Sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and for what it is, it's effective. Dialogue is clearly heard, gunshots come through loud and clear and the dreamy score by Tomandandy is heard to good effect. Background distractions are held to a minimum with there being no hiss or pops audible. The only real reservation I had was with all the whizzing gunplay of the movie and just for sheer atmosphere, a 5.1 remix would have been welcome, if not encouraged. As it stands the sound is good but unremarkable.

The only extras on the disc are the inclusion of the movie's original trailer, cast and crew biographies, and some better than average production notes.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As a film Killing Zoe is not an easy ride and could hardly be considered light entertainment. The movie has both a very dark and a very mean streak to it. Someone searching for light action fare are best left to look elsewhere. The movie cuts pretty close to the bone with characters who are less than likable and certainly less than redeeming. Everyone basically gets their just rewards and maybe that is the point. Still the movie makes for an uncomfortable experience. For sheer filmmaking, Avary is someone to watch but in the end, his film, like its characters, is hollow. The movie certainly deserves to be seen, I just don't know how much I will want to return to it in the future.

As a disc, Artisan is thanked for giving everyone the preferred anamorphic treatment but would a 5.1 remix been all that difficult? Also where are other desired extras, such as a commentary track, deleted scenes or a substantial making of featurette?

If Artisan has a weak link as a company, it's the way it treats its catalogue titles. Newer releases get red carpet treatment while the older titles are best left to fend for themselves. I'm still ticked off about the way the company treated Matewan, so I suppose this release is a step in the right direction. Still Artisan has proven on a consistent basis what they can do, now if only they would do it with movies from their past.

Another complaint is one I normally reserve for Anchor Bay and that is the lack of close captioning for the hearing impaired. As I have stated in the past, this should be one of the most basic features on a DVD and it is something that needs to be addressed by Artisan. I don't understand why a company would knowingly limit the base of people who would want to purchase their product. It's simple dollars and cents to me.

Closing Statement

If ever there was a film that acted as an ode to nihilism or as a poster child for narcissism, it's Killing Zoe. The movie's content is bleak, disturbing and joyless and does not speak well of the times we live in. In spite of that, or possibly because of that, it is a movie that deserves to be seen.

The DVD is decent enough, although it has a glaring lack of extras. I would recommend the disc as first a rental and if you get into what it is saying, go for a purchase.

The Verdict

Killing Zoe is proof that, for the most part, crime does not pay. Roger Avary is acquitted and this court looks forward to having his work appear before this bench sometime soon. Artisan is ordered to house arrest for six months or until they put more effort into their older titles.

This court is finished for the day and this case is dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 89
Audio: 85
Extras: 20
Acting: 92
Story: 89
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)

* English

Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Crew Data
* Production Notes

* IMDb