Luc Besson’s two most memorable films for me are The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional. The latter stars a very young Natalie Portman that wants to learn the trade of being an assassin, and this is in fact the starting point of the French-American movie Colombiana. It opens with scenes from our heroine’s childhood: Cataleya, but quite quickly switches to her story as an adult portrayed by Zoe Saldana.
While Besson has written many over-the-top action flicks over the last decade, he has not directed any of them. This also holds true for Colombiana which was instead helmed by Olivier Fontana. Fontana has given this film the same look and feel as the purely action-oriented production The Transporter. Unfortunately, this does not mix well with a plot which is more reminiscent of the drama and human-condition-driven Léon. Especially, for the scenes with the young Cataleya.
Cataleya wants her uncle to help her become a professional assassin for reasons that are revealed near the beginning of the movie and in the trailer below. At one point she insists on being taught the trade and her uncle’s reaction to this is far too extreme, let alone the lack of reaction of others in that scene: it just feels contrived. These kinds of moments significantly hamper character development making the audience less engaged with the rest of the movie.
Fortunately, Colombiana gets better as focus shifts to the adult Cataleya. Zoe Saldana saves the day with excellent acting, and some well choreographed fight scenes make the second half a treat. However, it is hard for the audience to sympathize with anyone’s faith in the movie apart from Cataleya. This is where Leon so excellently succeeded and Colombiana fails. Perhaps this would have been in better hands being directed by Luc Besson himself. Nevertheless, this is an okay movie to go see provided you like the over-the-top action style and can forgive the lack of character development.