Dir. Roger Avary
Starring. Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Jean-Hughes Anglade
UK DVD/Blu-Ray Release August 3rd from Fabulous Films
Only a few weeks after ‘Pulp Fiction’ took the Cannes Film Festival by storm in May 94 -making a household name of director Quentin Tarantino- it’s co-writer Roger Avary would release another relatively low-budget crime picture as his directorial debut.
‘Killing Zoe’ is a French set, heist thriller that- for better or worse- brought the genre kicking and screaming into the 90’s. The late, great film critic Roger Ebert described it as “Generation X’s first bank caper movie”. Assuming by this, he was referring more to the ‘Ecstasy Generation’, as there are more drugs consumed in this film than Keith Richards has had hot dinners.
If Tarantino’s unabashed assimilation of cinema history made him his generation’s Scorsese, Avary was it’s uncompromising Schrader, crafting a new breed of ultra-violent crime movie…. Film Nihilisme.
‘Killing Zoe’ succeeds on one primary front. It makes us believe that anything can and probably will happen… From the minute Zed (Eric Stoltz) answers the door to old childhood pal Eric (Jean Hughes Anglade) we know that whatever the job is, it isn’t going to end well.
As far as cinematic sociopaths go, this guy makes Heath Ledger’s dangerous & unpredictable Joker from ‘The Dark Knight’ look like The Archbishop Of Canterbury in comparison. His assertion that ” …the night before a job, we live life!” is followed by a sequence in a Jazz Club that is so debauched, Caligula would be calling for an early night. As far as unhinged performances go, I can think of few more ‘off the wall’ than the sight of bank robber shooting heroin in the middle of a heist. As you can imagine, it all goes downhill from there. Stoltz’s mercenary safe cracker works as a counterpoint for Anglade’s lunacy, recalling the steely professionalism of heist movie anti-heroes Alain Delon & Jean Servais, with the boyish vulnerability on which he made his name working for the likes of Hughes & Bogdanovich in Hollywood.
The Parisian setting is also key for grounding ‘Killing Zoe’ in the great tradition of French crime/heist movies. From Dassin’s iconic, meticulous ‘Rififi’ and Melville’s ‘Le Cercle Rouge’ to the modernist “Cinema Du Look” films of Besson & Beineix. This felt a little like an overhang from that popular French cinema of the 1980’s -aesthetically at least- with a pounding techno soundtrack and wild, kinetic hand-held camerawork. That being said, Avary makes a few inspired editorial decisions. The shoot-out scenes are cut with a frenzy and violence, in the vein of Tsui Hark/John Woo (‘The Killer’/’A Better Tomorrow’), whilst the infamous ‘Jazz Club’ scene- in which Avary claimed he wanted the film itself to look like it was on drugs- feels like a nightmarish blend of Fellini-esque anarchism and a hallucination straight from the mind of Irvine Welsh.
There’s an element of masculine wish fulfilment about the whole thing, especially in the sex scene right at the top of the film, which sees Julie Delpy’s exotic call-girl fall instantly in love with Stoltz’s Zed. No questions asked. Also, Eric’s academic backstory and over protectiveness for his Billie Holiday records fall on the side of contrivance, more than idiosyncrasy. That being said, it’s a compliment to the conviction with which Avary builds his drug addled limbo, that these details don’t derail the story too much.
The attention to detail- the use of the colour red in the bank sequence, adding a hyper-real quality and one quite brilliant Tom Savini make up effect- suggests that, at the very least ‘Killing Zoe’ may all be about ultra-violence and cheap thrills but, at least it was made with love.