Director: John Badham
Written By: Robert Getchell & Alexandra Seros
Based on the original Screenplay By: Luc Besson
Cinematography: Michael Watkins
Editor: Frank Morriss
Music By: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Bancroft, Miguel Ferrer, Dermot Mulroney, Harvey Keitel, Olivia D’Abo, Richard Romanus, Geoffrey Lewis, Lorraine Toussaint, Michael Rapaport
Drug addict Maggie Hayward’s consistent violence, even in police custody, ends in the execution chamber. However, top secret U.S. government Agent “Bob” arranges a staged death, so Maggie can be elaborately trained as a killer. She gets a new cover identity as saleswoman Claudia Anne Doran. She also finds a housemate, building super J.P., a broad-minded, gentle photographer. The two fall in love, and that complicates her government assignments. His influence extends to breeding in her a conscience that supplants her violent tendencies, and desire to continue work for the agency.
This is a remake of the French film LA FEMME NIKITA and while it pales in comparison as it lacks the style and offbeat approach of that film a kind of Americanized version that smooths out some of the more rough edges and mutes the more original elements.
This film has it’s own charms and at least tries to carve an identity of it’s own. As it plays a little generic but at least tries to be offbeat on it’s own.
These both came before the television series la femme Nikita in 90’s starring PETA Wilson and the more recent series that more took place after she became more renegade starring Maggie Q. I am a fan of this series and all of it’s presentations.
In Europe and Asia, the film was retitled “The Assassin”, after it “underperformed” in the U.S. with its original title. Warner Brothers felt the new title would help sell the action element. Other titles considered were The Assassin’s heart and sweet hot steel.
This is one of the first films I will admit to remembering a female action leading character and being quite impressed. Which might be why I give this film so much credit.
It also gave me a new respect for Bridget Fonda as an actress. This was really a role that could have defined her and while she plays it well and comes across as bad ass. She never really played a role like this after. It works because physically she is not who you would expect to be an assassin as not particularly muscular. She was offered the role after Winona Ryder and Jodie foster turned it down. Others considered were Hallle Berry, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Daryl Hannah.
The film sets it’s tone early in a generic yet cold hearted opening of her being a junkie and just killing someone for no reason and not feeling any guilt. Then she receives the death penalty and is seemingly killed and then really snuck into a secret agency to be trained as an assassin and given a new identity as well as training to truly inhabit someone else.
As she doesn’t really have a choice nor was given any. She seems pretty much centered on self destruction though her emotional fight against her execution shows she wants to love and still has some fight in her. Once she starts training she knows if she fails she will be killed but still seems to challenge authority and fight it any chance while trying to tow the line.
This was one of the first times I also heard Nina Simone music and after this learned more about her and her music so I also give this film credit for that.
Now as usual I saw this film before I saw the original. So I was going in biased and once I saw the original while blown away. I still have a soft spot for this film.
This film is brutal in it’s treatment of characters and victims. One scene that stood out was the opening scene that has no remorse and her initial execution and a later scene once the cleaner comes in and discovers one person might still be alive.
As with any copy this one is fine but just comes off not as sharp. It’s fun and plays more like an action film with a bit of soul and one of the better action films from Veteran director John Badham, as at least here it feels like he is putting in more of an effort and has more passion for the material then usual (see DROP ZONE for one of his more routine directing) He directs the film after the French originals Luc Besson turned it down.
The action scenes here are good but more basic and played more for thrills then necessarily action as much. The romantic subplots are here understandable while they are here to give her a connection to a normal character give her depth and humanity of some sort. Her chapter stays in control in the beginning and is more the aggressor and freely sexual. She gets emotional later only after he does and that is what causes problems in her programming and wiring where she questions herself and her acts .
Harvey Keitel has a small but important role in the third act that was originally played by Jean Reno in the French version and was more dynamic and important. Here keitel plays the look of the character More than the character. He just seems so basic and by the book and his fate is different than from the original which was unfortunate, but seems more a decision as the film ultimately needed a villain and a face and it was decided he should be it. It changes the dynamic but makes sense. At least both films retain a kind of romantic but cynical ending.
After Composer Gary Chang’s Score was rejected. The film ended up using LA FEMME NIKITA’S original score.
I would rec mend this film. Even though I suggest watch the original first, but I like both films as I feel they are a representation if a strong female character in a genre that at the time rarely showcased any. So for me I will always give the films respect. Though will freely admit as usual that the French original is way better.