Should I Watch..? 'Colombiana' (2011)
What's the big deal?
Colombiana is an action thriller film released in 2011 and is another chapter of Luc Besson's long list of films featuring angry women with guns. Originally intended as a sequel to Léon: The Professional featuring Natalie Portman's character Mathilda, the script eventually turned into this project when it became apparent Natalie Portman would be unable to reprise her role. Colombiana stars Zoe Saldana in the lead as a woman trained to become an assassin by her uncle in order to track down her parent's killers. Directed by Frenchman Olivier Megaton, the film received mixed reviews when it was released but an apparent sequel is currently in development, due to this film making a small profit.
What's it about?
Bogota in 1992 and the film opens with Fabio Restrepo fearing for his life after drugs lord Don Luis Sandoval sends his men to kill him. Giving his young daughter Cataleya information on Don Luis and her mother's necklace, Fabio tells her of an uncle in Chicago she can go to if she ever finds herself alone. Cataleya then hears her parents being shot dead by Don Luis's henchman Marco but escapes to the US Embassy where she exchanges the information for safe passage to the US and begins her search for Uncle Emilio.
Fifteen years later and the 24-year-old Cataleya is now an accomplished assassin who leaves a calling card with each victim, a small Cattleya flower. With FBI Special Agent James Ross on her tail, she begins to realise that Don Luis is tracking her down and she must move quickly in order to complete her revenge. But with her uncle and boyfriend Danny in the firing line, can she keep her emotions in check before tragedy strikes?
What's to like?
Besson and Megaton know their target audience and deliver a full-throttle action blast with ludicrous action scenes and a sexy heroine at the centre. On both these fronts, Colombiana is a winner. Saldana is perfect as the poker-faced professional, even though the movie doesn't require much in the way of acting from her. She is an antidote to those who suggest that women have to be built like traditional male action stars like Stallone or Schwarzenegger to succeed. She's no Ronda Rousey - a UFC star currently forging a career in professional wrestling - but the role doesn't require a beefcake. Cataleya is stealthy instead of stocky and Saldana's performance is better than the film deserves.
The action is pretty non-stop from the thrilling opening pursuit through the slums of Bogota to the overblown shoot-out at the baddie's private mansion. In many ways, I actually felt the opening sequence featuring the young Stenberg was the best of the lot and marks her out as a potential star of the future. You can see how Colombiana sticks to Besson's traditional girl-with-guns formula, nowadays echoed in stuff like Hanna and Haywire. It's quick, excessively loud and in between bloody conflicts, Saldana exudes sensuality like few others can these days. She reminded me of Salma Hayek's Carolina in Desperado and trust me, that is no bad thing!
- The movie makes reference to Léon: The Professional when Cataleya makes her first hit. The clothes she puts on afterwards - aviators, jacket, shorts and boots - match those of Mathilda's look in the earlier film.
- This was the debut acting job for Amandla Stenberg who would go on to appear in The Hunger Games and Rio 2. Her first name is actually the Zulu word for 'power'.
- Director Megaton took his name from his birthday - 6th August 1965 which was the 20th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, Japan. Ironically, the bomb itself was only 16 kilotons - nothing like a megaton.
What's not to like?
It shouldn't come as any real surprise that this film is so closely related to Besson's classic picture Léon: The Professional. Granted, that film is one of my favourite movies of all time but this feels like a lazy retread through the exact same story. It also isn't shot that well - the action feels blurred and indistinct, as if the sound effects of gunfire or fisticuffs were all that was needed. What we have here is the world's first Impressionist action film. There is such a chronic lack of imagination that it's actually aggravating - when Cataleya slips into her full-body catsuit and starts slinking around, I half expected Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery to turn up in the middle of Entrapment.
Apart from Saldana's performance, there isn't anything exceptional about the picture to lift it out of the well-trodden mire it finds itself in. The action may be noisy and brutal but it's certainly nothing out of the ordinary or anything you've not seen already in dozens of other films. And action movie veterans like Besson and Megaton should know that action movies need more than just bullets and bombs. Die Hard had Bruce Willis cracking jokes to break the unbearable tension while The Matrix had technical wizardry the world hadn't seen before as well as a labyrinthine plot and a killer soundtrack. Colombiana is exactly what it says it is - a movie about a woman with weapons - but nothing more.
Should I watch it?
Colombiana falls into the same trap that Haywire did - find a decent leading lady and let her blow stuff up to kingdom come. But it simply isn't interesting or exciting enough to justify spending a couple of hours with. Saldana's performance is the best thing about the movie which is a big budgeted B movie with the increasingly common twist of having a female protagonist. Action fans may get something out of it but personally, I wanted something more.
Great For: action fans, people waiting for a sequel to Léon: The Professional
Not So Great For: Colombians, action movie veterans, anyone overly familiar with Besson's work
What else should I watch?
Colombiana joins a long list of action movies with a female lead from Nikita (also written by Besson) and its American remake Point Of No Return, Haywire which offers a bit more plot to sink your teeth into and Hanna which is decidedly art-house in nature and the best of the lot, in my opinion. If this film is a shot of espresso then Hanna is like a large single malt, full of complex aromas and flavours and to be savoured slowly.
There are plenty of action movies with females working alongside their male co-stars. You only need to think of the likes of Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Aliens to recall Linda Hamilton or Sigourney Weaver with some serious hardware. Both of these are brilliant action movies that offer that little bit extra that Colombiana sadly fails to deliver.
Special Agent James Ross
Cataleya, aged 10
Don Luis Sandoval
Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
9th September, 2011
© 2015 Benjamin Cox