Rescued from death row by a top-secret agency, Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is slowly transformed from a cop-killing junkie into a cold-blooded bombshell with a license to kill. But when she begins the deadliest mission of her career only to fall for a man who knows nothing of her true identity, Nikita discovers that in the dark and ruthless world of espionage, the greatest casualty of all...is true love.
These days, Luc Besson is a powerhouse in the French filmmaking industry. Between his writing and producing duties, he's been responsible for dozens of huge international hits, including the 'Taxi' and 'Transporter' franchises. As director, he's helmed major productions like 'The Fifth Element' (in its day, the most expensive movie ever made outside of Hollywood) and 'Joan of Arc'. Loved by some and hated by others, Besson is often described as the "French Steven Spielberg." Like Spielberg, he is frequently praised for his mastery of cinematic technique yet criticized for his sloppy storytelling and the general superficiality of many of his movies. While he had previously made a name for himself in France with a few notable pictures such as 'Subway' and 'The Big Blue' during the '80s, Besson's 1990 action thriller 'La Femme Nikita' (as it's known in America; it's simply titled 'Nikita' in France) is the film that really jump-started his career as a talent to be reckoned with.
Anne Parillaud stars in the title role as a sociopathic druggie captured by police during a failed pharmacy robbery in which she viciously murders a cop at point blank range. Sentenced to life in prison, Nikita is forcibly recruited by a secret government organization that stages her suicide and trains her to become an elite assassin. The girl is a quick study in some respects -- guns and fighting come naturally to this nutcase wild child -- but has more difficulty cleaning up and learning social skills. After three years isolated from society, her handler Bob (Tchéky Karyo) releases Nikita with a rather cruel introduction to a first assignment that almost goes disastrously wrong.
Having proven her worth, Nikita settles into a new life under the name Marie, finds a boyfriend, and attempts to juggle her secret identity as a free-spirited nurse with her real job as a contract killer. It's not an easy balance, especially when she gets the call during a vacation, and has to carry out a hit from the hotel while her oblivious boyfriend is in the next room. It also doesn't help that she's started to develop a conscience.
Besson directs 'Nikita' with maximum stylistic flair. Although released in 1990, the movie's fashions, music, and attitude are très '80s. And yet, the picture is so vividly and idiosyncratically stylized that it rarely feels dated. Under Besson's control, this is a slick, exciting thriller with a sharp script, fantastic action scenes, and complexly layered character development.
Parillaud is marvelous. As the movie starts, her character is a completely unsympathetic, heartless psycho. The movie doesn't romanticize her as some sort of misunderstood troubled youth; Nikita is introduced with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, practically a feral animal. Ironically, only after being trained as a professional killer does the woman start to become a human being, with real emotions and emerging moral values. The actress pulls off both sides of the role, and the conflict between them. She's tough, sexy, vulnerable, and dangerous all at once.
'La Femme Nikita' was a substantial international success that later inspired a watered-down American remake ('Point of No Return' with Bridget Fonda) and a spin-off TV series starring Peta Wilson that ran for five seasons on cable. Despite this, the original film remains a classic and one of the best movies in Luc Besson's career.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The home video distribution rights to 'La Femme Nikita' were previously held by MGM Home Entertainment, who last released the movie on DVD back in 2001 as a Special Edition with a handful of bonus features. However, the current Blu-ray is being distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as a stripped-down catalog release with no supplemental content.
The disc is BD-Live enabled for no particular reason (there is no BD-Live content for the movie) and starts with an annoying Blu-ray promo before the main menu.
The movie begins on a bad note with some downright blurry opening credits. I suspect that may be an issue with the optical printing process used to generate those titles. Fortunately, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer otherwise looks pretty darn good. The 2.35:1 picture is a little soft, but that could be a side effect of the Technovision anamorphic lenses used to shoot the movie, not any digital filtering. A few shots with wide angle lenses have obvious focus issues. In general, the Blu-ray image has a nice sense of detail and depth. Colors are often garish, which is entirely appropriate to the film's intended style.
Mild film grain is present throughout, and sometimes looks a bit noisy, though not severely so. There's a touch of edge ringing on sharp contrasts, but this is not a serious problem on the whole. Contrasts look to have been artificially boosted during the disc transfer, and there's some loss of detail in shadows. Nonetheless, 'La Femme Nikita' is very impressive in High Definition.
The French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is just as nice. The front soundstage has good separation and clean sound effects. Gunfire is sharp and hits with satisfying impact. Eric Serra's score is resolved with pleasing fidelity and has some nice low-end beat. Dialogue is sometimes a little flat, but not to any bothersome extent. Typical for movies of the era, the mix doesn't have much surround action, and even less discrete rear channel activity. Even so, this is a very engaging track.
English subtitles are positioned half-in and half-below the 2.35:1 letterboxed movie image, which will be a problem for viewers with Constant Image Height projection screens. The subtitle translation appears to be the same as the last DVD, and is superior to the "dubtitles" (a transcription of the awful English dub script) that were used on earlier DVD editions.
Unfortunately, Sony has not licensed any of the extras from MGM's last DVD edition of 'La Femme Nikita'. Nor have they produced any new content of their own for the movie. The Blu-ray has nothing other than the studio's generic Blu-ray promo and some trailers for unrelated movies.
The French action classic 'La Femme Nikita' arrives on Blu-ray with excellent video and audio. Too bad the disc doesn't have any bonus features, but the movie is entertaining enough to warrant a recommendation on its own.