• James Rutherford

‘La Femme Nikita’: A Vigorous, High-Voltage 90’s-Era Action Thriller from France


Movie poster for the film La Femme Nikita starring Anne Parillaud and Tchéky Karyo

“La Femme Nikita” (1990) is a dynamic urban action thriller from French writer/director Luc Besson (“Léon: The Professional’, “Arthur and the Invisibles”), that follows the maturation of young Nikita (Anne Parillaud) from murderous junkie felon to stealth government recruit, and ultimately to the elite rank of covert spy-assassin.


Opening with a botched robbery that ends in the murder of an officer in the police tactical unit, Nikita is convicted and sentenced to death—before being offered an unlikely second chance by Bob (Tchéky Karyo), a shadowy member of the clandestine government agency “The Centre”. Bob oversees Nikita’s furtive training in martial arts, firearms and computer technology, even as she openly rebels against the Centre’s strict culture of compliance.


Over time, Nikita gradually evolves into a sharpened and exquisite enchantress, delivered to the outside world as “Marie”, a sleeper agent who must conform to society even as she lies in wait for her first assignment. A chance encounter with a supermarket cashier named Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) leads to a burgeoning romance, even as Marco remains pointedly ignorant of Marie’s true calling.


Building on his earlier success with “Subway” and "The Big Blue" ("Le Grand Bleu”), “La Femme Nikita” was Luc Besson’s first foray into full-fledged action-thriller territory (precluding “Léon” and “The Fifth Element”) and his signature brand of intimate yet high-voltage cinema is on full display here. His action sequences are wonderfully tense and brutally efficient, highlighted by the memorable appearance of Jean Reno as “Victor the Cleaner”—a coldly ferocious fellow assassin who nearly steals the show in the film’s closing chapter.


Remade in America on both film and television (to lesser success), Besson’s original film remains at the pinnacle of early 90s-era French cinema, with Parillaud shining brightest in a career-defining role that showcases her full spectrum of on-screen abilities. In all it's grade “A” cinema that deserves to be seen and appreciated for its remarkable craftsmanship and game-changing female-forward narrative.

 

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