Thursday, April 25, 2013

Killing Zoe (1993)

Title: Killing Zoe (1993

Director/Writer: Roger Avary

Cast: Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Jean-Hughes Anglade


So the story with director/writer Roger Avary is that back when they where nobodies, Tarantino and Avary worked in a  video club in Los Angeles called ‘Video Archives’ ; a place of gathering for cinephiles and future film directors and producers. This video club turned out to be Tarantino and Avary’s breeding ground, after working there, they both went on to have successful film careers. Avery and Tarantino collaborated in a couple of films like Reservoir Dogs (1992), True Romance (1993) and Pulp Fiction (1994), though for whatever reason, Avary would go uncredited on some of these projects. Both of these talented individuals parted ways because as two great creative outputs, their geniuses would clash. Currently Avary says he can’t hang out with Tarantino because in Avary’s own words: “he sucks stuff from me”. Hey, I’d be pissed too if my buddy would steal ideas from me and then call them his own, or get all the credit for them. The lessons here being, don’t share your ideas with anyone, especially not Hollywood people.

But anyhow, Avary has gone on his own path in Hollywood. His first attempt at directing a film was Killing Zoe, a bank heist movie not unlike Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in that it’s a heist movie in which everything gets blown to hell. There’s two kinds of bank heist movies out there, the ones in which the heist is spectacularly pulled off, and the ones where everything goes wrong. Well, this is one of the ones where everything goes seriously wrong. First we meet Zed (played by Eric Stoltz) a safecracker who travels to France in order to help an old friend named Eric pull off a bank heist. All he has to do is break the safe, get in, get what they want, get out. The heist sounds simple enough to Zed, especially when the tough shit is left to Eric and his gang of misfits. All Zed has to do is open the safe. Nothing much to this films plot except the question that everyone asks while watching this kind of film: will they pull of the heist?

With Killing Zoe, you definitely feel like you are watching a Tarantino film, there’s drugs, hookers and violence, only Killing Zoe is a bitter affair, there’s no comedy to the proceedings. Avary seems to have a more acid outlook on things and it’s because of this that Killing Zoe is such a serious affair. Save for Eric Stoltz ‘Zed’ and Julie Delpy’s ‘Zoe’, most of the characters in this film are not likable at all, they feel like real douche bags. The first taste of bitterness comes when Zed has had sex with Zoe and they immediately like each other. They seem to be really hooking up, but then Eric comes storming into the room and coldly kicks Zoe out of the room even though she’s completely naked! What a douche bag! So right off the bat, we get a taste of this Eric character, who is very obviously a real asshole. He’s the kind of character who’s bitter sweet.  He’s Zed’s lifelong friend, but he is also extremely rude. We then have to hang out with Eric and his gang of equally douchie junkie friends during a night of debauchery in the streets of France. Eric tells Zed “I’m going to show you the real Paris”.

This whole crazy night was a great part of the film; I really got the vibe that I was hanging out with a group of low lives who like to live on the edge. They’ll try every drug they can, push the limits of what their bodies can take. They hang out in these seedy pubs, doing heroin while everyone watches. You kind of have to wonder how they are going to pull off this heist with the hangover they will probably have the next day. This part of the film feels genuine, probably because the script is partially based on Avery’s own experiences while visiting Paris, you have to wonder what kind of trip Avery took to inspire a film like this, but anyhow, after a crazy night of drugs, booze and broads, the movie shifts into the heist which starts out well enough, but soon degenerates into a blood bath.

Ebert called this movie “generation X’s first heist movie” and the first film from the “film generation”. This whole “film generation” thing that Ebert referred to in his review makes sense, considering this film comes from a real cinephile like Avery. These are really the best kind of films in my book, the filmmakers behind them feed off other films and then do their own updated version of the movies they love, with their own style infused into the proceedings. Tarantino, Scorcese and Del Toro are this way, they are all cinephiles, true lovers of cinema that make movies influenced by hundreds of other movies they’ve seen before. Though to be honest, I couldn’t really compare Killing Zoe to anything I’ve seen before! It has its very own style and mood, very realistic, gritty and violent. It’s got that nihilistic 90’s vibe that the youth of that decade had. I remember being a teen during the 90’s, the young people of that decade were very angry, very upset at the world; their music was not happy music. This is where grunge came from, from all that pent up anger.  The characters in Killing Zoe have an anarchic “fuck everything” mentality to them, these are men who don’t give a crap what happens to them. To them, life is just one big fat stupid joke not meant to be taken seriously.

The only real problem for me with Killing Zoe is that the film is very thin. It’s only about these crazy pissed off characters pulling off a heist, with not very much to say about anything. One of the characters has Aids, and some seem to think the film is some sort of metaphor for aids, but honestly I didn’t see that. Zoe and Zed have a pseudo romantic involvement, but it’s doesn’t go further than their first encounter as hooker and customer.  For a movie coming from a writer, to me Killing Zoe didn’t have any depth to it. It has crazy characters, violence, nudity, drugs, and an overall chaotic feeling to it, but did it say anything to me past its crazy characters and situations? Not in my book. In comparison Reservoir Dogs has all sorts of themes and depth to it, Killing Zoe simply has its kinetic energized style, that’s it. This could have something to do with the fact that Avary wrote the film in a couple of weeks when producer Lawrence Bender found this abandoned bank while scouting locations for Reservoir Dogs. When Avery heard of this location, he immediately wrote the screenplay based on his experiences while traveling through Paris. This is probably why the “hanging out with the crazy junkies” part of the film feels so genuine. Not that I’m complaining, I’m simply saying that Killing Zoe is a good example of style over substance. But is it boring? Not in the least! The film entertains with its sordid characters and the complications that occur during the heist, just don’t expect anything more than that.

Rating: 4 out of 5       


Jack Thursby said...

Haven't watched this film in forever. I remember I watched it as a kid with my friend who was obsessed with Tarantino.

I remember it being really thinly plotted and (like you said) lacking in Tarantino gift for making you care about low life characters.

I should probably give it a rewatch someday.

Franco Macabro said...

I'd never seen it, but i always heard about it. I've seen all of Tarantino's films and projects, but this one had slipped through the cracks. Glad I finally got a chance to check it out. With this one I learned that Avary's films have an edge/acidness to them that I enjoy.

On this one you don't really care much for anyone, everyone is pretty much a douche bag, but with the main character 'Zed' you can tell Avary made an effort to make him likable in the first half of the film, when Zoe tells him that he is a "nice guy" and even though she's a prostitute, Zoe comes off as a good natured person as well, she's a whore to pay for her education, she actually has an honest job and so forth.

Still, it's pretty hard to love a character who's a heroin junkie and a thief! You kind of get the feeling that they don't give a crap about anything!

Aside from Zoe and Zed, the rest of the cast are pure dirtbags.


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