Should I Watch..? 'Point Of No Return'
What's the big deal?
Point Of No Return (also known as The Assassin) is an action thriller film released in 1993 and is a direct remake of the 1990 film Nikita. The film depicts a woman sentenced to death who is unexpectedly given a reprieve in order for her to be trained as a covert professional killer. But after an assignment goes wrong, she finds herself in danger from her colleagues. The film stars Bridget Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Dermot Mulroney, Anne Bancroft and Harvey Keitel and was directed by John Badham. Debuting at number two in the US, the film would go on to earn more than $30 million in the US although the film did receive criticism from some critics for not being different enough from Nikita to make the film worthwhile.
What's it about?
Criminal junkie Maggie Hayward is arrested and found guilty of the murder of a policeman during a bungled robbery. Sentenced to death, she is about to subjected to a lethal injection when she wakes up alive in a strange room. Realising that her death has been somehow faked, she is introduced to an enigmatic man called Bob who offers her a choice - work for him or be killed a second time. Perhaps understanding that she has no choice, Maggie begins to undergo intensive training in combat training, espionage and marksmanship. All too soon, she has become a ruthless and unstoppable assassin.
Released back into society with a new identity, Maggie - now known as Claudia Doran - moves to California where she struggles to adjust to her new-found freedom. While still working as an assassin for Bob and his superiors, Maggie falls for photographer J.P. and begins to tire of her deadly profession. Although Bob assures Maggie that she can't leave the agency, he promises to pull a few favours with his boss. But can Maggie keep her past a secret from J.P. before it puts both of them in danger?
Maggie Hayward / Claudia Anne Doran
Robert Getchell & Alexandra Seros*
Release Date (UK)
2nd July, 1993
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Say that you are unfamiliar with Nikita or any of its TV spin-offs. If this is the case then Point Of No Return is actually a surprisingly effective thriller. Fonda, in one of the biggest roles of her career, is a wonderfully adept action heroine who encapsulates the sexuality and raw power the role demands. Byrne, for his part, is equally schizophrenic as Bob - part slimy Government toady and part charismatic tutor and possible love interest. It's also great seeing a female action heroine leading a film like this - Besson's original action sequences are replicated here almost shot-for-shot and while they're quite ludicrous, they are still exciting to watch.
The cast also has some depth further down as well. Veteran Bancroft delivers another reminder of her talents in her brief appearance as Amanda, schooling Fonda in the art of being ladylike and seductive. I also enjoyed Keitel's appearance as Victor although he struggles to match the coolness brought to the role by Jean Reno in the original. As the film progresses, the predictable clash between Maggie's new romance and her new career gives the film a dramatic edge in the closing stages and makes it stand out from other action thrillers of this sort. So if it's that good, why the low score?
- Titled Nikita during shooting, the film's title was changed to The Assassin for European and Asian markets after the film was judged to have under-performed in the US. Warner Bros were hoping the name change would boost the film's action credentials.
- Halle Berry lobbied hard for the role of Maggie but Badham wasn't interested. Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman and Daryl Hannah were considered but the role was offered to Winona Ryder and Jodie Foster - who both turned it down.
- The film features not one but two cameos from directors. Badham appears as the room service waiter while veteran TV director and producer Michael W. Watkins plays one of the guards at the gate during the escape.
What's not to like?
Trouble is, many people will be at least aware of the French original or the various TV sequels and spin-offs. And annoying, the US remake is virtually the same as Nikita with the exception of cast, crew and language which begs the question of what the point of Point Of No Return was. The film ignores much of the subtext in Besson's career-changing movie which simply shows us these characters going the motions without much in the way of characterisation. Anne Parillaud's performance in the lead role felt more raw than Fonda's, Reno was just sensational as Victor and as much as I love Nina Simone (whose music features quite heavily in the remake), the electronic score by Eric Serra in Nikita is just fautless. The remake goes through the motions but it lacks the heart of the original.
There is another issue with Point Of No Return that is harder to define. Obviously, I have seen fewer French films than I have seen American or British films - and I suspect that may be true for you as well. With fewer expectations, Nikita struck me as an exceptional action thriller that felt different and more inventive somehow. But there is little about its Yankee remake that feels different. There isn't much which is memorable in any way - either because it's too similar to Nikita or because it's sub-par. A noticeable impairment is Mulroney who fails to make an impression as the blissfully ignorant boyfriend. I also got the sense that the film wasn't sure what it wanted to be - the action, while good, isn't frequent enough for my tastes while the romantic subplot felt by-the-numbers instead of achingly tragic as it was in the original.
Should I watch it?
Point Of No Return is too inconsistent to register a bull's eye on its particular target. Essentially a needless remake because it mirrors the original too closely, the film isn't exciting enough to be an action film nor is it dramatic enough to stand out from many other action films of the time. It's a shame because Fonda is terrific in the lead (and makes me wish she did more films of this type) and what action the film has is also very well done indeed. The film is only really for anyone who hasn't seen the original or anyone who dislikes subtitles.
Great For: anyone who hates French, anyone who hasn't seen Nikita, fans for girls-with-guns flicks
Not So Great For: anyone who has seen the original, pushing boundaries, action fans thinking this is an all-out bullet fest
What else should I watch?
The Nineties were a golden age for action thrillers with some absolute classics like Speed, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Heat. While not every film can hit such high standards, even sub-par sequels still resonate and find an audience today. The Bond franchise was revived for a post-Cold War market in GoldenEye while the Die Hard franchise rolled on with Die Hard 2 and the even better Die Hard With A Vengeance. Against such a backdrop and such a crowded market, it was always going to struggle but occasionally a film would land and still make an impact - I loved The Long Kiss Goodnight while one of my favourite ever films Leon brought Besson huge international success.
America has a long history of remaking French movies into English - Wikipedia lists some 98 movies apparently based on original French films. Sadly, not many are that great but why these films fail is a mystery. Three Men And A Baby hasn't aged as well as you might have hoped while Taxi is one of the very worst films I have ever seen. But it's not all bad - fabulously camp comedy The Birdcage has Robin Williams in fine form while True Lies is a fantastic blend of comedy and action with both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis playing a married suburban couple with a fairly deep secret between them - one with genocidal terrorists, Harrier Jump Jets and nuclear weapons. Not who left the seat up.
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