A new femme fatale for a new decade

Espionage meets 'Pygmalion' in Luc Besson's 'Nikita'.
Espionage meets 'Pygmalion' in Luc Besson's 'Nikita'.

Gritty yet stylish, ‘Nikita’ takes viewers to a dark world of clandestine intelligence agencies, ‘black ops’ assassinations and self-discovery.

If the title sounds familiar, Luc Besson’s film was the inspiration for the U.S. television series that last year finished a three-year run and picked up where the 1990 movie left off.

When a pharmacy robbery goes wrong, drug addict Nikita (Anne Parrillaud) murders a police officer in the resulting gun-fight and is captured, tried and sentenced to life in prison. Her captors, however, fake her suicide and deliver her into the hands of “Bob” (Tcheky Karyo) who heads up a division of the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE - France’s external security service).

Officially dead and buried, Nikita is offered a stark choice - a clean slate working for the DGSE or actually occupying her fake grave.

Despite initially resisting, she opts for the former and in training finds she has a talent for killing. At the same time, she is transformed under the tutelage of Amande (Jeanne Moreau), who changes her from junky to femme fatale.

Her initial mission, to kill a foreign diplomat in a crowded restaurant and escape from his bodyguards back to HQ, doubles as the final test in her training. She passes and begins life as a sleeper agent in Paris with her boyfriend Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) who knows nothing of her real profession.

She begins to question her role, however, after killing a woman for reasons unknown while on holiday in Venice although still pursues a successful career. She’s faced with a dilemma, however, when Marco finds out her secret.

Peppered with some blistering action sequences, ‘Nikita’ presents a pleasing paradox that the flawed central character only develops socially after entering an equally twisted life as espionage meets ‘Pygmalion’. It also did much to redefine the ‘girls with guns’ concept and set the standard for subsequent “wannabes”, few of which compare.