Point of No Return

(aka The Assassin, John Badham, USA, 1993)


It is received critical wisdom that John Badham's Point of No Return is an inferior and unnecessary remake of Luc Besson's French hit Nikita (1990). What's the point of duplicating Besson's plot and characters, simply with new actors speaking in English?

Yet, if appropriation artists of the last decade and a half (such as the Australian painter Imants Tillers) have taught us anything, it is that even the identical copy of an artwork can reveal new and striking things to us.

Point of No Return is not exactly like Nikita. The script (by Robert Getchell and Alexandra Seros) is more conventionally sturdy, and the action set-pieces have a touch of Hong Kong master John Woo (Hard Boiled, 1992). Yet this version mines the real core of Besson's film more richly than Besson himself did.

The Woman Nikita –  literally translating the original La Femme Nikita, which eventually returned as the title of the Canadian television series – is about female selfhood made unstable and unlivable by a very scary, patriarchal world.

In this telling, Maggie (Bridget Fonda) is a drug-addicted criminal saved from execution by a government agency that wants to put her to work as a political assassin. She is simultaneously groomed to kill like a machine and smile like a lady. At every turn, all men give her murderously mixed messages, and no woman can be the mother-figure she so wistfully pines for.

Where Besson's style was punk chic, Badham tends towards a chillier, SF aura – one that exploits well the dislocation and unreality of this grim, nightmarish tale. Hans Zimmer's score brilliantly builds upon the haunting songs of Nina Simone. In the ambiguous portrait gallery of men offered by Point of No Return, both Gabriel Byrne and Dermot Mulroney are captivating in lead roles – but be sure to stay for Harvey Keitel's indelibly cold ten minutes as "Victor the Cleaner".

MORE Badham: Blue Thunder, Nick of Time

© Adrian Martin June 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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