For a film without much buzz, Columbiana packed a high-caliber pop. But this doesn’t surprise me one bit, seeing who the screenwriter is. I’ve always been a big fan of Luc Besson’s writing and Columbiana fits perfectly alongside some of his best work.
Cataleya, played by Zoe Saldana, witnesses the execution of her parents. At the time, she’s in that developmental age, where a child gets that first idea about what they hope their future has in store for them. It’s a time when the child marinates their likes and dislikes, their hopes and passions, around within their head, over and over again. Eventually these adolescent wants get discarded and forgotten of. It’s not until many years later, where things are remembered and chalked up as frivolities of youth.
The ambitions of a young Cataleya though, became forever engrained that day she watched her parents die. At such an early age, the seeds of revenge and retribution were planted into a saddened girl’s impressionable mind. Seeds that a determined child made sure to water every day. No longer was her story about revenge alone, for the revenge became her identity, dictating every move she, as an adult, would make.
This style of story has been done and done throughout the years, from the Death Wish films to Faster and numerous plots and subplots of countless movies in between.
I greatly appreciate the way Besson puts things down, taking far-fetched ideas, well at least for some, and goes on to show you how things are possible in such a world.
He did this with Leon: The Professional, where another young girl witnesses her family’s execution and haps into an apprenticeship with a lonely assassin. Here, the idea of a young girl, that’s learning about the ways of death, when most others her age, are first learning about life. Everything is detailed out, and then shown how this could become possible, given the proper circumstance and of course, fate by your side.
In Taken, he shows an extremely skilled retired spy, thrust into a situation where only his unique skill-sets, would be enough to save his daughter from her takers. The unlikelihood of success was countered only by shear chance, in how this particular child had a father with such unique abilities. Once again he takes the audience down the path of unlikelihood and shows us just how the improbable may not be as improbable as we had originally thought.
In Columbiana, he throws down yet another unlikely possibility, where another young girl is thrust into a quest for revenge. It’s not odd, in that the child sought vengeance, nor is it odd to believe that she would do whatever it took to make her challenge more favorable. What is unlikely however, is how a young child could become a skilled assassin, schooled by the uncle that swore to her protection, then grow up to be, that skilled ghost of vengeance that topples an elusive, yet deadly, CIA protected, criminal empire. Yet Besson shows us, virtually step-by-step, forgoing the scholastic element, something he’s already done in Leon and in other films. In Columbiana, he shows how the girl stays true to her course, treating every day of her own life, as if every breath she took, only served the purpose of getting her one breath closer, to exacting the vengeance bottled up inside of her.
What I liked the most here is two-fold. First is the resourcefulness of Cataleya, who uses everything in her environment her as a potential tool, from the environment itself, to well timed puzzles and disguise. She uses adaptability as an advantage, whether in slinking her way past guards, or into and through the thinnest of ventilation shafts, from using flowers for bait to swimming amongst sharks. As far as weapons go she, again, uses whatever she can, to help her achieve her goals, from toothbrushes to automatic machine-guns, from knives to well-trained dogs. Her adaptability though expands past means of achieving success; it also shows how she can adapt to life’s circumstances as well.
She, as a child, must adapt to the reality that her parents had just been killed and, in a second, plot a course of escape. She must adapt to her new surroundings, going from Bogota to Chicago, from the family she knew and loved, to a, while family still, family she was not well acquainted with, and would have to learn to love. In as such, she had to learn about an entire new culture, let alone the intricacies of relationships themselves.
The only time she goes against her seemingly endless, revenge-centered drive, ironically enough, is the reason she was able to bring her enemy out into the open, yet it also turned into another case of personal loss as well. So, where the first of my two-fold answer is adaptability, the second is also adaptability, yet only differently.
In this case, she falls in love, something that she was not going to allow, yet, nevertheless she does fall in love with Danny, and it was because of this love, combined with her uncle’s pleading her to stop what she was doing, that a sloppiness surfaced. It was an innocent act, staying the night with the man she loved. Yet from this innocent act, a domino effect ensued. One such that made her location known, to both her enemies and the FBI alike. This strange twist of fate, something which Besson seems to really enjoy implementing into his scripts, sets her vengeful plans back into motion once again.
Now, this all said, I don’t believe Cataleya ever intended to discard her vengeance quest. Yet it did seem like she was planning on getting more serious with Danny. That, and it appeared she showed a brief sense of willingness, to appease her adoptive parents, by slowing down, or at least thinking things through a bit more.
Yet, this was not to be, as the dominoes fell, affected was one and all. This landslide of sorts retriggered her rage, with a much more furious sense of urgency. She was now not only avenging the deaths of the parents she new in youth, but also those of the parents who raised her into adulthood. It’s also very possible, which I believe, that she was seeking vengeance for the likely death of her own potential, at parenting, and any possibility of a future with Danny, that at this point, to her, must have felt like an impossibility.
Besson’s a master at what he does, and Columbiana is not just another revenge themed film, but one worthy of being alongside Leon, Taken, the Transporter films and the many other excellent scripts he’s penned.