The Herald Bulletin

August 25, 2011

'Colombiana' mixes action, heart

By Heather Bremer
The Herald Bulletin

— “Colombiana” draws you in with flying fists and blazing guns but keeps you with its surprisingly heartwrenching story.

BACKGROUND: “Colombiana” is the latest in a line of action thrillers from French writer/director Luc Besson. The Frenchman is the mind behind some of the best action flicks in the last two decades, including “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element,” the “Transporter” trilogy, surprise hit “Taken” and “From Paris With Love.”

Before its opening, the film took a critical lashing from Colombian groups for its portrayal of Colombian culture. However, the period the film spends in Colombia (which was actually shot in Mexico) is set 20 years ago when drug-related violence still was rampant in the country.

SYNOPSIS: After young Cataleya Restrepo sees her parents murdered, she makes her way to the United States to find the last living members of her family. At her request, her uncle grooms her to be a deadly hitman. As a grown woman, she carries out a string of assassinations with one goal in mind: sending a message that will draw out the monster who killed her parents.

THE GOOD,THE BAD AND THE UGLY: Moviegoers hoping to see a retro action flick will be pleased. There’s plenty of gunfire, explosions and hand-to-hand combat.

But Besson’s script also offers up a surprisingly heart-wrenching tale. This isn’t a film you would expect to move you to tears, but this reviewer must admit to getting something in her eye twice during the film.

Particularly touching is young Cataleya’s reunion with her uncle, played perfectly by Cliff Curtis. There are few words, but their faces, full of grief, say it all.

Amandla Stenberg is very good as young Cataleya, and one of the successes of Besson’s script is to make her tough from the get-go. This is no fragile flower completely transformed into a killer by her parents’ death. Instead, she is very aware of the way her world works and not afraid to do what she must to survive.

Zoe Saldana as grown Cataleya shows she’s got the action chops of Angelina Jolie and doesn’t forget the need to act while she wielding weapons of destruction. Her feline grace makes her believable as an elusive assassian (and makes one wish DC hadn’t already done Catwoman with Halle Berry).

Every moment between Saldana and Curtis makes the film better because these moments feel authentic. Like glimpses at real-life moments between uncle and niece.

Michael Vartan does well  in a small role as Cataleya’s love interest, Danny. Their relationship, passionate but distant, is another success of the film. It’s easier to believe Cataleya would have this type of connection than settling down with a house and kids.

Lennie James and Callum Blue also turn in good performances, though Blue’s ability to menace seem a bit wasted as a sniveling CIA agent.

THE FINAL SCORE: “Colombiana” is a furious action film with just the right amount of heart to make its lethal leading lady sympathetic.

EXTRAS: It’s worth it to stick around to hear Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” from beginning to end as the credit roll.

“Colombiana” has a run time of 107 minutes and is rated PG-13.

"Colombiana" has a run time of 107 minutes and is rated PG-13.