I saw this last night at my local Reel Cinema in Andover on their small (10 foot) Screen 5 - for the amazing price of £3.80. Friendly staff, a small audience and the low ceiling all combined for an intimate viewing experience - excellent value for money.
Beginning in Colombia in 1992 we witness the assassination of the drug-cartel parents of nine year-old Cataleya - named after a rare Colombian orchid. The murder of her parents fills her with an all-consuming desire to seek revenge on the drug lord (Don Luis) that ordered the killing. The narrative arc begins with the motive being given and ends ..... predictably with the motive being satisfied.
This film is visually gripping and fast moving with a story written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen it has a notable heritage underpinning it. It is however not without serious flaws. The film is presented as a collage of homage scenes drawing on Lara Croft, Kill Bill, The Matrix and Mission Impossible - to name but four! It is also one of a growing number of films that casts a child in the adult role of assassin - Kick Ass and Hanna come to mind. Although we never see Cataleya kill anyone as a child, her vocation is set and her childhood and teen years are, we are left to imagine, training her to become the assassin she is driven to be under the tutelage of her uncle in Chicago. I am extremely uncomfortable about this growing trend of child assassins - a genre that is popular in much Japanese and Oriental narrative and film-making. For me it does not translate easily or convincingly to Western culture and comes across as a clumsy and crude plot device.
The film is full of chase sequences with miraculous escapes. Cataleya has clearly mastered the art of devising the perfect 'hit' as she carries out contract after contract for her uncle. She draws her trademark orchid on the corpse of each victim in a bid to draw out the killer of her parents but this information is only put into the public arena after her 23rd victim! Slowly but surely her adversaries foot soldiers are despatched to eliminate her and the film builds to climax in a villa in New Orleans.
Cataleya has a relationship of sorts with Danny - an artist. He knows nothing about her - she even uses the name Jennifer when she is with him. She is usually waiting for him when he returns from being out and within five seconds she has initiated and act of energetic intimacy. She then usually slips away before he wakes. This is an extremely abusive relationship on her part as Danny is clearly in love and appears to be a decent guy who wants a relationship with her. Although it is clear Cataleya cares deeply for him, she subordinates her feelings for him as her life is totally focussed on fulfilling the prime directive - killing Don Luis.
There are several continuity and plot difficulties. The dialogue is clunky as it unpacks back story after back story and explains what's going on in a really unsophisticated way. Such as when she travels on her own (aged 9 and in the USA for the first time) from Miami to Chicago she reads a Xena Warrior Princess comic book. The adult Cataleya's avoidance of being caught on surveillance cameras in public places is telegraphed with such repetitive regularity that you know it will in some way contribute to her downfall. How the film ends leaves this unresolved as her visage is now on the CIA and FBI databases - untidy, or leaving the door open for a sequel?
The action sequences are breath-taking and the ingenuity of the assassin's art is something to be marvelled at in this fantasy blood-fest. On one level the film was hugely enjoyable - but then I catch myself reflecting on the underlying morality and feeling really uneasy about enjoying such stuff. The meteoric transition of a wide-eyed squeaky clean school girl in her pinafore uniform into a vocational assassin with attitude, style, grace and beauty is a transition that can only occur in a world that is screwed. To make such things attractive and portray Cataleya as the helpless victim is to present a character who fails to take responsibility for things she should seek to change instead of taking responsibility for killing scores of people herself. But that would mean no success at the box office. In her dialogue with an FBI Agent she says that she wanted to be on the side of good but was forced to be on the other side - does vengeance absolve people from responsibility? Perhaps that's easy for me to say as my father wasn't (as far as I know) a drug lord, and certainly wasn't gunned down in front of me.
Where the film oozes a sophisticated engagement with its narrative is the soundtrack to the end credits! As the names roll we are treated to Jonny Cash singing his version of Nine Inch Nails Hurt with these words which I imagine are intended to be applied to Cataleya:
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
Perhaps this says more about the sins of fathers being visited on their children than the rest of the entire film? As worrying as the plot glitches and morality of this story are, perhaps the most worrying thing is that I enjoyed the movie! I'll give it 7/10 for the visual presentation, soundtrack and acting.