It’s been pretty clearly established in this column that I cannot resist a Luc Besson film, no matter how bad it might turn out to be. The style of action he established in films like Nikita has been a staple, for better or worse, of his films since the 1980s. But in the spectrum of Luc Besson films, where does Colombiana fit?
Right in the middle.
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The film starts in 1992 where a young Cataleya witnesses the deaths of her parents at the hands of a drug lord in Bogota, Colombia. Her father is no saint; he was the drug lord’s main assassin and had key information on him which led to his murder. She survives, makes her way to America and is raised by her Uncle. In addition to becoming her substitute father, her trains her to be an assassin and take revenge on the drug lord that killed her family.
If you’ve ever seen another Besson film called Léon: The Professional that plot should be more than a little familiar. It’s essentially the story of Natalie Portman’s character in that film.
Zoe Saldana plays the adult version of Cataleya, now on a mission of revenge. She has been taking out the lieutenants of the drug lord one at a time. It’s a number that has cleared 20 murders but both the drug lord and the Federal agents protecting him just seem to be cluing into how busy she’s been.
Besson has a preoccupation with pissed off female leads going out for revenge in his films. Unfortunately, they are often one dimensional characters with little to define them beyond their obsessions and the men they’re in love with. Saldana’s character is given no room to grow beyond what we’re presented with in the first scenes of the film and the actors around her are just barely set pieces around her. She’s a far more capable actress than what she has to work with here.
But keeping that in mind, Colombiana is a prime example of how big an action film star Saldana could be.
What this movie lacks in depth of character and story it more than makes up for in action. Saldana spends the movie cutting a swath of inventive destruction across the paths of her enemies, leaving chaos in her wake. She starts with subtlety, initially choosing to be a silent assassin, but when she is discovered she switches to full auto and straight up mows the bad guys down. Saldana plays this role effectively and believably. You walk away from the film knowing that she could kick the crap out of those guys, something you can’t say about a lot of her modern action film era counterparts both male and female.
She is currently making a new Marvel Comics film, Guardians of the Galaxy, where she plays Gamora. This character is known as the most deadly assassin in the galaxy, adopted and trained by Thanos himself. This is a character she is more than capable of playing and will be outstanding at.
Ultimately, Colombiana is another in a long line of mediocre Besson revenge/action fantasies that is just barely watchable. But it’s Saldana’s performance that makes this movie worth pressing play.