By 1990, I had already seen and enjoyed two films by the French director, Luc Besson. ‘Subway’ (1985), and ‘The Big Blue’ (1988) had shown me that he had both talent and style in abundance. When I heard that he had released a new thriller, ‘Nikita’, I happily went off to the cinema to see it. That was fortuitous, as it became one of my favourite modern films, and stunned me with its inventiveness and quality. Anne Parillaud is outstanding in the tile role, as the truculent teenage girl living a life of drug use, recklessness, and crime, devoid of conscience. After a robbery goes badly wrong and she is facing a life behind bars, Nikita is kidnapped, her death faked, and she is trained to become an assassin for a secret government organisation.
The film excels in set pieces, there are numerous twists and turns in the story, and it has a magnificent supporting cast, including the legendary Jeanne Moreau, Jean Reno, and the wonderful Tchéky Karyo. Living a double life to cover her work as an assassin, Nikita is always emotionally torn, and this adds to the tension of course. But above all, Anne Parillaud’s superb performance is the glue that holds this film together, from the opening scene, to the end credits. Highly recommended.
Then they decided to remake it, in America. Oh dear.
First of all, they changed the title. It became ‘The Assassin’ (1993), though it was also confusingly known as ‘The Point Of No Return’, in some releases. Bridget Fonda took on the role of Nikita, now called ‘Maggie’, and the solid Gabriel Byrne was now ‘Uncle Bob’, along with support from Harvey Keitel, Anne Bancroft, and Miguel Ferrer. It was all there for the taking, they just had to leave well enough alone, and get on with a straight remake. I was seduced by the cast, and bought the film on VHS. Despite Fonda and Byrne giving it their best shots, they changed just enough of the story to make it feel far-fetched. The script felt more like a TV movie, and it lost a lot of the ‘dark feel’ of the original too. It also has to be said, that at the time anyway, Bridget wasn’t a patch on Anne Parillaud. This was a fine example of an unnecessary and completely pointless remake, only three years after Besson’s exciting original.
Stick with the French film, tolerate the subtitles. You will be glad you did, believe me.