Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 26th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: France, February 21st, 1990
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Cast: Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Marc Duret, Tchéky Karyo, Patrick Fontana, Jeanne Moreau, Philippe Leroy, Jean Reno
BluRay released: September 14th, 2009
Approximate running time: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo French
BluRay Release: Optimum Releasing
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: £24.99
Synopsis: Nikita and her friends are looking for their next fix break into the drug store that is owned by one of their accomplice’s father. Things quickly spiral out of control when the police show up and a shootout ensues. After the smoke clears and all her accomplices have been taken out by the police, Nikita the only survivor seals her own fate by killing a policeman. Once imprisoned for her crime she is approached by a government agent, who offers her a second chance if she agrees to become an assassin who works for the government.
While there have been other films about female assassins that pre-date Nikita. No film before or since Nikita, has come close to replicating a female assassin as compelling and enigmatic like Nikita. From our first glance of her in the drug store very little is revealed about who she is and where she has been before this moment. Even as the film evolves her back-story is a tightly held secret that is never fully unveiled. At one point in the film her mentor Bob, makes up a past for her as he reveals some fictitious childhood moments about her which he tells to Nikita and her lover Marco. By the time she makes her exit at the end of the film she is just as mysterious of a character as she was when the film began.
In many ways Nikita is an empty shell when we first see her at the beginning of the film. As the story progresses she reveals starts to reveal some of her more human side when the pressure gets to her and she breaks down. One moment the immediately springs to mind is a scene when she tries to escape from the ministry, her new home since they help fake her death in hopes that she would become an assassin for them. In her desperate attempt for freedom she takes Bob’s gun and uses him as a hostage. She makes it as far as the door only to find out that her escape attempt will not be successful. She then turns the gun on herself and when Bob takes the gun back before she can off herself. She then lays on the floor sobbing. “I always leave the first chamber empty”, referring to his gun and then he shoot’s her in the leg and says “I had to clip her wings”. Another key turning point and emotional outburst for Nikita happens when a mission goes wrong and a character named Victor the cleaner is called in. Nikita is ready to call the mission off as she sits in the corner whining. Victor eventually he to gets fed up with her overflow of emotions and lets her known that they are going to see the mission through to the very end, even if it means an almost certain death.
After working with cinematographer Carlo Varini on his previous three films, Nikita would mark director Luc Besson first collaboration with cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, who has worked on almost every film that Luc Besson has directed since. Other notable films that Thierry Arbogast also worked on as a cinematographer include The Apartment (L’appartement), Woman on Top, Kiss of the Dragon and Femme Fatale. Visually Nikita is a very stylish affair that takes full advantage of every set and location. The use of blue tint during the opening scene at a drug store, the sterile looking white room that Nikita wakes up in after her apparent death in prison and especially the way in which characters and objects are framed in compositions. One of this film’s most visually striking images is a shot of Marco and Bob who are framed at the opposite ends of a table as they discuss Nikita. The films four major action sequences the drugstore, the restaurant murder; the apartment killing of a diplomat and the blood bath at an embassy are all spectacular set pieces that beautifully contrast with the more human elements of the story.
As good as everything else is in this film there would be no Nikita without Anne Parillaud who gives a vulnerable and believable performance in the role of Nikita. Even with the film’s lack of back-story for Nikita she does a remarkable job bringing the character to life and making Nikita all the more tangible. Some of her strongest moments in the films include a scene where she first meets Bob, after her apparent death in prison and ask him, “Mister, is this heaven here or not?” to which he replies “No but it could turn out to be”. Other key moments for the Nikita character in the film include a scene where Bob brings her a birthday cake and lets her known they only have two weeks for her to make a complete turnaround or she is through, a scene where she assaults her martial arts teacher and then breaking out into dance and the scene where she meets Marco for the very first time, are all crucial to her development as a character.
It is hard to imagine any other character stealing the spotlight from Nikita, even if only for one moment. And yet this happens after the arrival of Victor the cleaner who actually only has two scenes in the film. These scenes also happen to be two of the more powerful in the films as they reveal that Nikita has not lost her humanity after all and that Victor in direct contrast has as he is nothing more than dead inside. Jean Reno is superb in the role of Victor the cleaner and he would be cast in a similar role four years in Léon, which was also written and directed by Luc Besson. The two men in Nikita’s life are portrayed by Tchéky Karyo and Jean-Hugues Anglade respectively. Tchéky Karyo in the role of Nikita’s mentor Bob is an exceptional example of a subtle performance that is as rich and complex without every losing any of the mystery of the character. Even though he has been assigned to Nikita and transform her into a cold blooded killer one can clearly see that he views her as so much more. His emotional attachment / bond with her are in direct contrast with the persona he projects. In many ways Nikita teaches him as much as he teaches her in return. Another performance of note is Jean-Hugues Anglade who portrays Marco the man who Nikita falls in love with. Also look out for Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim) and Philippe Leroy (The Frightened Woman), in minor secondary roles. Nikita features another exemplary score from Eric Serra that blends in with what is going on and never becomes to overpower or distracting to the point of drawing attention to itself.
It would not take long for Nikita to find an audience and its worldwide box office appeal would spawn an American remake titled Point of no Return and a few years after the American remake, there would be a TV series based on the character. All of the characters are all equally fascinating and dysfunctional. The lyrical dialog and scenarios in which all the characters are placed in elevate what could have ended up being nothing more than your typical action fodder.
Nikita comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. Colors look nicely saturated with the film’s opening blue tint sequence being a prime example of this transfer lucid color palette. Flesh tones look healthy and accurate, film grain also fares well, details looks sharp throughout and edge enhancement is minimal.
This release comes with one audio option a Dolby Digital Stereo mix in French and removable English subtitles that are easy to follow and error free have been included. This a strong audio mix that is always clear, balanced and robust during the films more action heavy scenes.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 22 seconds – Anamorphic Widescreen – in French with English subtitles), a segment titled “The Sound of Nikita” (4 minutes 48 seconds Letterboxed Widescreen), with comments from composer Eric Serra, Anne Parillaud and Tchéky Karyo. The main extra for this release is a making of documentary (20 minutes 37 seconds – Letterboxed Widescreen), with comments from actress Anne Parillaud, actors Jean-Hugues Anglade and Tchéky Karyo and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. Also included with this release are four very brief segments “Karyo on Luc Besson”, “The Bedroom”, “Training Room” and “The Vanity Room”, which include comments from Parillaud and Tchéky Karyo. All the participants speak in English, except Marc Duret and Thierry Arbogast who speak in French and English subtitles have been provided. All of the extras are presented in a standard definition PAL. Overall Nikita gets a strong BluRay release from Optimum Releasing.