The City of Light becomes the City of Blood in KILLING ZOE, the first feature by Quentin Tarantino associate Roger Avary. Violent, kinetic, and occasionally clever, KILLING ZOE is no match for either RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) or PULP FICTION (1994), but it's a zoned-out rollercoaster ride of
the first order.
Zed (Eric Stoltz) is an American safecracker with a wispy little goatee and an affected air of world-weariness at odds with his unlined face. He's come to Paris at the request of Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade), a childhood friend who's planning a big Bastille Day robbery. On the advice of a friendly
taxi driver, Zed calls for a prostitute and gets the winsome Zoe (Julie Delpy), a sweet little thing who studies art by day, sells herself by night, and doesn't go in for any kinky stuff. Though the encounter starts out as pure business, it quickly develops into something else: Zoe and Zed are
soulmates. They make love while NOSFERATU plays on the hotel TV and achieve a state of dreamy satiation that's rudely shattered when Eric arrives. He throws Zoe out and hauls Zed off for a night of debauchery.
Zed meets his fellow bank robbers, Francois (Tai Thai), Ricardo (Bruce Ramsey), Jean (Kario Salem), Claude (Salvator Xuereb), and Oliver (Gary Kemp), an international pack of wired drug addicts. "Before we do a job, we live life," Eric leers. "It's better that way, OK!" Zed keeps wanting to look
at the blueprints and discuss the plan of action, but the night drags from crash pad to jazz club to sordid public toilet with barely a hint of that tediously American pre-planning. The next morning, the scruffy lot of them pile into their van, disguise themselves with cheerful animal face masks,
and pour into the bank, spreading chaos with sadistic glee.
Zed is escorted to the downstairs vault, where Eric cheerfully kills a bank employee who's too slow to tell him what he wants to know, setting the tone for the rest of the gang's occupation of the bank. And Zed doesn't even know the worst of it: Zoe is one of the hostages upstairs. Isolated in
the vault, he starts the painstaking work of cracking the safe while the rest of the gang run riot. Eric, filled with dope and fatalistic anger, sets the frantic tone upstairs, while Zed battles his private demons downstairs. His worst moment comes when he blows open the vault, only to discover
that the blast didn't kill the guard inside, but maimed him hideously; peaceable Zed must pull the trigger. Things come to a head when the police tire of negotiating and storm the bank. Eric recognizes Zoe and drags her along with him as he searches for Zed, and the two face off in a blizzard of
gunfire from every direction. When the smoke clears, Zoe helps Zed escape, telling the police that he's her boyfriend and was one of the hostages. They drive away together.
KILLING ZOE never stood a chance of being judged on its own merits; for better or worse, it was part of the Quentin Tarantino phenomenon. First time director Roger Avary was Tarantino's fellow video store clerk in Manhattan Beach; he co-wrote PULP FICTION and contributed material to the
screenplays for RESERVOIR DOGS and TRUE ROMANCE. KILLING ZOE's executive producers include Tarantino and his producer, Lawrence Bender; star Eric Stoltz also appears in PULP FICTION. And the material is pure Tarantino: the ZOE robbery is very nearly the unseen DOGS heist with every awful moment of
mayhem played out, rather than evoked through dialogue and flashbacks. All that aside, KILLING ZOE isn't a bad film. The dialogue is sharp, the action explosive, and the atmosphere convincingly grungy. It's just a terribly derivative film, and the pre-release hype, which included some nasty
Avary/Tarantino sniping, guaranteed that everyone seeing ZOE knew exactly what it was derivative of.
Name in the title notwithstanding, Delpy's Zoe is the least important corner of the film's central triangle. Even if the audience buys the love at first sight scenario (as we're apparently meant to), Zoe scarcely has time to register before she's shunted aside. At the bank she's a minor element:
it's clear that sooner or later Eric will recognize her, but there's so much noisy stuff going on all around her that she's forgotten much of the time. Stoltz's Zed, the nominal protagonist, ought to be the film's moral center, but since he doesn't seem to have any morals, there's a void around
him. It falls to Eric to keep the audience's attention and he more than succeeds. Anglade's Eric is a spiteful dervish, the center of all attention whenever he's onscreen. He's simultaneously wickedly funny--as when he assures Eric, who wants to take a post-coital shower before going out, that "In
Paris it's good to smell as though you've been fucking"--and truly terrifying. The revelation that he has AIDS comes as no surprise, and gives the film's apparently happy ending a morbid ambiguity: the wounded Zed is covered with Eric's blood.
Overall, KILLING ZOE's lack of center, moral or spiritual, keeps it from truly transcending its exploitative material. But it contains moments of pure bloody poetry that are a pleasure--of a very particular kind--to behold. (Graphic violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations, substanceabuse.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: The City of Light becomes the City of Blood in KILLING ZOE, the first feature by Quentin Tarantino associate Roger Avary. Violent, kinetic, and occasionally clever, KILLING ZOE is no match for either RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) or PULP FICTION (1994), but it's a… (more)