Assassin is an American remake of Luc Besson’s Le Femme Nikita, without the new wave, post punk trappings. Bridget Fonda plays ‘Maggie Blowjob’ (well, that’s what she calls herself in a police interview), who is a dishevelled, anti-social drug addict who kills a policeman while trying to score her next fix. For her crimes she is sentenced to death by lethal injection. The death sentence is not carried out and Maggie awakens in a Spartan, white room. At first she thinks she is in heaven until Bob (Gabriel Byrne) enters with a proposition. Either she can co-operate and be trained to be a covert agent (giving a little bit back to the community she abused), or the ‘death penalty’ can still stand. Maggie reluctantly agrees (some choice). Over the next three years she is trained in martial arts, the use of weapons, computers, and even how to dress, walk and talk. Finally she is released into the community.
It is interesting to see Harvey Keitel as Victor ‘The Cleaner’. A cleaner is the man who comes in when a mission has gone wrong to clean up the scene and dispose of the bodies. Compare this character with Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction (made a year later).
To some people this may be sacrilege, but in some ways I think that Assassin has stood the test of time better than Le Femme Nikita. Although only made three years previous, the original was definitely a film made at a certain time. Besson made his film, stylistically, cutting edge. But what is cutting edge one year, is passé the next. Badham travels a more timeless path and this serves the film well. One of the elements that helps the film is the choice of music.
The incidental music is by Hans Zimmer is fairly unobtrusive. But musically it is the great songs by Nina Simone that drive the story along. In fact, the code-name selected for Maggie is ‘Nina’. Songs like ‘Feelin’ Good’ which struts out when Maggie has finally been released into society emphasise the feeling of freedom that Maggie must be experiencing. At the end of the movie, when Maggie has to leave everything behind her ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ emotes a feeling of melancholy and loss that sums up the character perfectly.
Other Simone performances include, ‘I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (yeah, the Beatles one), and ‘Wild Is The Wind’. I doubt the common practice of using popular, commercial artists of the day would have had the same impact – and only serve to date the film in future years.
I know that Hollywood’s penchant for remaking hit French films is reprehensible, but on this occasion the final result is fairly pleasing. In some sequences, it is shot almost scene for scene, which I guess is about as respectful as you can get. Assassin obviously is not as groundbreaking as La Femme Nikita, but if you view it as a stand alone feature, it’s a solid spy film, retaining the original ‘dirty people’ for a ‘dirty job’ ethos. You could do a lot worse.