Killing Zoe, 1993.
Directed by Roger Avary.
Starring Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Gary Kemp, Tai Thai, Bruce Ramsay and Ron Jeremy.
A safecracker arrives in Paris to help a friend with a bank heist but things spiral out of control very quickly.
The POV camera driving through the streets of Paris, the pulsing techno beat ascending in the background and the name ‘Quentin Tarantino’ plastered across the screen in big letters – yes people, we are back in the early-mid ‘90s. However, Tarantino’s name is under the title of Executive Producer as Killing Zoe was written and directed by Roger Avary, who co-wrote Pulp Fiction with him.
In a role written specifically for him, Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction/The Fly II) plays Zed, an American safecracker in Paris on the request of his old friend Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade – Betty Blue). After an encounter in his hotel room with call-girl Zoe (Julie Delpy – An American Werewolf in Paris), Zed hooks up with Eric, who reveals that he invited Zed over to Paris to help him and his gang rob a reserve bank the following day. However, things go from bad to worse for the wary Zed when Eric’s behaviour becomes increasingly unstable, the police show up and it turns out that Zoe has a day job in the bank that he is robbing.
It would be very easy to accuse Killing Zoe of being ‘Tarantino-lite’ as there are lots of threads running through it that evoke Reservoir Dogs and True Romance (also co-written by Tarantino and an uncredited Avary), but both of those films had the advantage of being directed by filmmakers with a distinctive style. Killing Zoe is very flat in comparison, although Avary does try and put a spin on certain scenes but nothing ever feels fresh or inventive. Every effect or visual trick that Avary employs looks like something you’ve seen already – even when put into the context of 1993 it still doesn’t look or sound very original – and more than likely done better.
The dialogue is a bit hit-and-miss also, the interactions between characters veering very near to the types of conversations you get in Tarantino films but slightly less sparkly. Eric Stoltz gives the kind of performance that, on the surface, looks slightly lethargic but once you apply his seemingly laid-back, slightly out-of-the-moment delivery to Roger Avary’s words something happens that lifts a large portion of the script, his early scenes with Julie Avery proving to be quite charming and, surprisingly, believable. Jean-Hugues Anglade gives the best performance as the unhinged junkie Eric, chewing the scenery and creating a character that would be very unpleasant to be around if you were to encounter him but makes for a great time when you’re watching him. The rest of the gang are fairly faceless, with only Bruce Ramsay (Hellraiser: Bloodline) and Gary Kemp (The Krays) being vaguely recognisable but also being quite terrible, Kemp especially managing to be as convincing as a junkie bank robber as he was as Ronnie Kray, i.e. not very.
The film does contain a few scenes of violence that are executed in the same casual manner that the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez get criticised for whenever they release something new but, to his credit, Avary does manage to put in a few genuinely human moments between the gunshots, the most notable being an interaction between Zed and an injured security guard.
It’s a moment of surreal calm amidst the violence of a heist and a few more of those could have made a bit of a difference but overall, Killing Zoe is a less satisfying film than Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, although it does capture the zeitgeist of the time with its almost casual depictions of drug culture and violence, and there is a streak of humour running through the script that certainly comes from the same place as both of those two films, albeit less iconic and indicating where most of the talent lay in that particular writing partnership. It’s a decent snapshot of the 1990s filmmaking aesthetic but far from definitive and not really a film that has as much re-watch appeal as most of its contemporaries. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of the style and you haven’t seen it but don’t expect the quality of Avary’s other co-written projects.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★