What would the world be like without Nikita? The 1990 film by (then) little known French director Luc Besson introduced the world to the contemporary female action hero- beautiful, conflicted, and deadly. Essentially, Nikita served as the feminine embodiment of the antihero as seen in countless male oriented outings of a similar ilk, and while gun toting women weren't something entirely new (the blaxploitation era's Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones had Nikita beat by a couple of decades), Besson's Nikita was in a league of her own.
After breaking the law one too many times, young petty criminal and drug addled Nikita (Parrilaud) is heading to prison for the long haul- that is until she's given a shot at redemption when she is offered an opportunity to serve the French government as a spy. Nikita accepts, is "officially" killed, and goes underground (literally) to begin her training. After months of work under the tutelage of her handler Bob (Karyo), Nikita cleans up her act and becomes a very capable and effective agent (brutally effective!). However, when Nikita meets Marco (Anglade), who is completely unaware of his love's occupation, Bob sees a potential conflict brewing. Now that Nikita's found love, will she lose the inner demons that fuel her?
La Femme Nikita has it's share of detractors who insist that the premise of the film is too far-fetched in that the government would offer a drug addicted street punk a job as a spy but I see the logic in this. Nikita is, first and foremost, a gorgeous woman and, at the risk of sounding misogynistic, a gorgeous woman can do a whole heck of a lot of stuff that your Bond's and Flint's can't. When the target is a man, who better to take him down than a man's greatest weakness? What heterosexual man wouldn't be blindsided by one so attractive and seemingly innocent as the lovely Nikita? Sure it's a bit of a stretch to say that a former drug addict would rise to the upper echelons of the intelligence community, as Nikita does, but she's a "sleeper" whose activated when she's needed, and her jobs are tailor made for her...err..special abilities. Nikita is a post-modernistic Mata Hari, but make no mistake- she's no simple boy toy. Nikita is just as adept at sniping a target from 300 yards, garroting a guard, or poisoning your stew.
I've nothing but praise for this film, but since I've seen it several times, inevitably I have found some faults that have taken it just south of perfect. I think my only real problem with Nikita is it's rather convenient ending. I won't spoil it here, but I've always found it to be a bit optimistic in light of the character's situation. Still, it's a minor gripe, and one that probably won't even stand out to first time viewers. The performances in the film are all excellent, but I've got to point out two in particular; Tcheky Karyo as Bob, and Jean Reno as Victor. Karyo's Bob serves as both mentor and father figure to Nikita, and he skillfully alternates between being the novice spy's boss, who wants the job done at any cost, and the man whose come to love his charge and wants her to be happy. When Bob is forced to order Nikita to follow through on a mission that has been completely botched, his hesitation gives way to that fatherly instinct, and it's a truly touching moment.
Reno steals the show as Victor the "cleaner". This role is special in that it is somewhat of a preview of Besson's "Leon". While the characters aren't the same, Reno exudes the same cool, no-nonsense approach to his job, while exposing his quirky and humorous side (albeit in brief glimpses).
The new Special Edition DVD from MGM offers a few choice new treats, including a spectacular new anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film, three featurettes (including a very in-depth making of!), poster gallery, trailers and more. No commentary by Besson, but the making of covers quite a bit.
Nikita is a vital and exciting piece of filmmaking that literally redefined the role of women in western action cinema, and without her it's unlikely that many of the current female action heroes would have seen the light of day. Smart, sexy, and provocative, Besson's classic is must see stuff for any serious action fan.