If you’ve never seen this movie, and it’s not remotely like the tepid remake The Assassin with Bridget Fonda, then it’s worth seeing at least once and possibly more than that.
Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a young heroin addict riding that particular pastime to oblivion. She’s involved in a robbery that goes completely wrong resulting in the death of all her accomplices, and her killing a policeman. In France they put you in jail and throw away the key under these circumstances, and that looks like her fate.
But her death is faked and she wakes up in the French intelligence with well dressed ‘Bob’ (Tchéky Karyo). He tells her that she’s now got a choice, to work as an assassin for him or be put to death.
From this point it’s something of a deadly twist on Pygmalion, where she’s turned from a girl who’d hit rock bottom to a beautiful, sophisticated and lethal killer. But the highlight of the entire film is her initiation mission, where she’s taken to a posh restaurant, and assumes naively that it’s because she’s been good. It’s an epic action sequence where we get to ride Nikita’s emotional rollercoaster with her, as she’s pushed to the very limits and beyond.
From this point the plot becomes somewhat meandering. She’s a successful killer who lives a relatively normal life with a man she met in a supermarket. But eventually it all goes wrong on a mission and Victor (Jean Reno) turns up as ‘the cleaner’, who removes all evidence and operatives from failed projects.
The body count dramatically increases, and it’s only through the grace of a bullet wound Victor gets that Nikita survives. It all ends rather oddly with Nikita’s boyfriend asking Bob to protect her, when they both know that she’s more than capable of doing that herself.
The weakness of the movie is lack of structure, mixed with any real sense of back-story for any of the characters other than Nikita. What elevates it for me is the performance of Anne Parillaud, who crafts in Nikita a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown who somehow manages to stay functional enough to do what’s required.
Tchéky Karyo does his usual impression of ship becalmed in a lake of emotion, but this technique has got him plenty of Hollywood work since.
It’s also got a great score by Eric Serra, which is especially evocative in the action scenes. His work here is so good I keep promising myself I’ll buy it on CD.
The other stand-out aspect of Nikita is the cinematography by Thierry Arbogast, who also shot other Besson productions The Fifth Element and Leon. Some of his shots of Paris are simply stunning and it’s mostly delivered with entirely natural light. The downside of those lighting choices is that some of the internal scenes and night photography is quite grainy. I’m not a grain fan, but this fits well with the gritty realism of the subject matter.
As such the transfer to Blu-ray isn’t as sharp and as succinct as it might have been, but, within the constraints of the source material, it’s fine. The detail you can see in the ornate ceiling of the restaurant sold it to me over the DVD release, and there isn’t a scratch or dust spec in sight.
Sound is pretty good also, although, unlike the US release of this movie, there is only one soundtrack, the original French one. Part of me salutes those who ditched the English dubbed track, yet I’m aware some people don’t care for subtitles. It’s also only stereo, which might be something of a shock to those that expect 5.1 HD mixes with every movie on Blu-ray. Despite being only stereo the sound is very crisp and there is excellent range in those sequences with music.
The minimalist theme of the audio is also reflected in the limited extras. They’re all in SD, and have a total running time of less than 30 minutes. There is a twenty minute featurette Making of Nikita, and a five minute insight into the work of Eric Serra’s music, The Sound of Nikita. To that they’ve added the original film trailer, and some 30 second long blit-verts entitled Karyo on Besson, The Bedroom, Training Room, and Vanity Room. Really, I’m not sure why they bothered, other than the material existed from a previous US DVD release.
The bottom line is that if you like the movie and want a good copy of it without the English overdub, then the Blu-ray provides that, just don’t go expecting much else.