Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language, Plentiful Drug Use and a Sex Scene
Directed by: Roger Avary
Written by: Roger Avary
Starring: Eric Stoltz, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Julie Delpy, Gary Kemp, Kario Salem, Tai Thai & Bruce Ramsay
There’s probably a really awesome movie lying somewhere in the confines of KILLING ZOE, but, sadly, the film by the actual title of KILLING ZOE is not that movie. This directorial debut of Roger Avary (the man who helped Quentin Tarantino construct his first screenplays) very much feels like an early Tarantino film. By that, I mean that it feels like it would fit somewhere right before RESERVOIR DOGS, because this movie has some issues in its first act that are just too big to overlook. KILLING ZOE is an entertaining and dark little heist thriller…if you can make it through the amateur hour that is the first 45 minutes.
Zed is a safe-cracker who’s come to Paris in order to pull off a big job with a former childhood friend, Eric. Without any company and a free night to himself, Zed decides to hire an escort for the evening. This prostitute comes in the form of Zoe and the two spend a semi-enjoyable time together. While prepping for the heist, Zed comes to realize that Eric is not the same person he remembered as this long-haired French thug is frequently using hard drugs and seems to be quite insane. Zed still considers a job to be a job and the heist begins…only for Zed to discover that Zoe happens to be one of the bank’s employees. Needless to say, things get very complicated!
I want to make it clear that I liked KILLING ZOE. I need to say that upfront because I don’t have a lot of a nice things to say about the first half of this movie. In fact, that’s the space of running time where pretty much every single problem with this film dwells. The first 45 minutes are build up until the heist. Zed’s encounter with Zoe is alright, but I didn’t buy any believable chemistry between these two for a single second (in spite of what the film wants you to believe). However, the interactions with Eric populate most of this front section and they’re close to being downright unbearable. Eric’s a lunatic asshole character for sure, but the style in how these early conversations are shot reek of a “Look what I can do!” mentality. The camera angles are slanted so much that the look becomes the annoying style of the film until the actual heist begins. Honestly, the film could have snipped out 20 minutes from the opening 45 and it would have been far better for it.
The latter half (a.k.a. the heist) is where KILLING ZOE really takes off! There’s a solid amount of tension that’s slowly built and frequently explodes into bloody outbursts. Eric’s villain who previously just seemed like an obnoxious idiot, becomes a very dangerous and evil obnoxious idiot. The film is unapologetic in its violence as innocent bystanders get gunned down as the fever pitch rises. There are a couple of downright brutal bits in the last third of this film. Though there is definitely a sense of darkness surrounding the sheer insanity and overly excessive violence in the long heist, Avary also couldn’t help but inject a couple of moments of pitch black humor. A scene involving an American tourist who feels that he should be entitled to be safe wherever he goes simply based on him being an American made me laugh, even if the punchline is pretty twisted.
KILLING ZOE is a mediocre film in the first half that turns into a great film during the second half. The contrast between the tones in these halves really seem like they came out of entirely separate films. The sheer pretentious bore that is the opening is made up for by the ridiculous insanity that is the closing. It’s almost like RESERVOIR DOGS had a baby with TRUE ROMANCE, but it’s not quite as good as either of those films. If you dig Tarantino’s earlier stuff and don’t mind lowering your expectations a bit, then you’ll probably enjoy KILLING ZOE. Know that your struggle to get through the overstylized first half is worth the reward that is the rest of this movie.