Sony // 1990 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // December 2nd, 2008
A new kind of lethal weapon.
Before Luc Besson redefined the assassin genre with Leon and thrust us into a colorful future with The Fifth Element, he came to North America's attention with La Femme Nikita, a gritty, bold thriller about a drug addict transformed into the toughest super-assassin ever. It set the tone for a number of films in the same genre, and still holds up quite well. Having already been remade as Point of No Return and serving as the basis for a television series, this is your chance to see the original in high definition for the first time.
The story follows the self-proclaimed Nikita, a savagely violent drug addict who finds herself on the chopping block after her involvement in a robbery gone horribly, irrevocably wrong. She is surprised to wake up in a white room, and given a choice by the sadistic Bob (Tcheky Karyo, The Messenger) -- she can die, or she can be trained as a government agent. Reluctantly, she chooses the latter and becomes Josephine, a polished assassin. When she is released into the field, she falls in love with a local store clerk, and begins a normal life. But how can she balance her ordinary life with her role as a killer?
Watching La Femme Nikita again, I was struck by how good it is. I had remembered it as one of my least favorite of Luc Besson's films from this era, and I was stunned by how compelling I found it. This is especially true of Nikita herself. It's a truly phenomenal role, and Anne Parillaud (Innoncent Blood) is just great. Her transition from violent junkie to suave assassin is one of the most impressive in film history. The action is slick, and the relationship between Nikita and Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is also consistently compelling. La Femme Nikita works as well as a romance as it does an action movie, which is more than I can say about more recent Besson films.
Unfortunately, I remembered during the climax why I came away from the film disappointed when I watched it several years ago. The ending, beginning with the arrival of Vincent (Jean Reno, Crimson Rivers) is unpleasant enough to mar the tone of the rest of the film, and shifts the narrative far too quickly. It's not that Reno doesn't do an awesome job with the role -- in fact, he rebuilt that character for the much superior Leon a few years later. Rather, the final mission and its aftermath simply doesn't line up with the rest of the film.
Still, La Femme Nikita has enough value that I am recommending it, both to action fans in general, and fans of Luc Besson that missed it the first time around. It brought a lot to the genre in the early '90s, and it still holds up surprisingly well almost 20 years later.
I wasn't expecting much from the transfer, considering the age of the print and the usual effort that goes into the transfers on foreign releases. In terms of the video transfer, I was very pleasantly surprised. This wouldn't be an easy film to remaster digitally, given the range of color schemes and the numerous night sequences. The 1080p transfer handles all of these sequences with aplomb, delivering a sharpness and clarity that I hadn't expected. There's a richness to many of the sequences, and the film never looks washed out, even in sequences with mostly neutral colors. The black levels are excellent, with more shadow detail than I would have expected. The whole print shows an appropriate level of grain, and bright colors are bold without becoming garish. It's certainly not a reference-level Blu-Ray transfer, but it's every bit as good as can be expected given the age of the film.
The audio is less exciting. Most of the sound comes from the front soundstage, though that isn't too much of a surprise for a film that wasn't originally mixed in 5.1. The voices are clear in the original French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, with no hint of tinniness. The sound is mixed mainly in the front channels, and never overpowers the other elements of the track. While there is occasional use of the surrounds, the track lacks the depth that we've come to expect from recent action films. I'm not a fan of the English dub, so I didn't spend much time listening to its quality, but it seemed to lack the detail and natural feel of the original language track. The real failing of the disc is in special features. There is no attempt here to port over content from the DVD. I'm not exactly begging for a load of special features for La Femme Nikita, but a little effort would have been nice.
If you are already a fan of La Femme Nikita, there's plenty of reason to pick up the Blu-Ray disc. It makes a great upgrade from the standard definition version, with a transfer that holds up really well. If you have yet to pick up a version of the film, this is the one to get. Even for action fans who have yet to be introduced to this violent slice of French cinema, La Femme Nikita is a pretty solid buy. While the end is a bit of a letdown, the impressive setup and a collection of great action sequences makes up for the disappointing conclusion.
Not guilty, so there's no reason to send a cleaner after me.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R