Killing Zoe - Director's Cut [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Japan - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (20th February 2016).
The Film

"Killing Zoe" Director's Cut (1994)

After arriving at the airport in Paris, Zed (played by Eric Stoltz), an American is taken to his hotel by taxi, in which the driver (played by Martin Raymond, but dubbed by Djimon Hounsou) says he can hook him up with a girl for the night. The beautiful young escort, Zoe (played by Julie Delpy) arrives at Zed’s hotel room and gives him the terms of service and costs in French, though he says immediately that he can’t speak French. Luckily, she speaks English and offers the terms (which are slightly higher in cost in English) in which he agrees on having her stay the night. Not the expected down and dirty sex romp, they have a sensual time together, with Zoe confessing that she really felt extremely comfortable with him, rather than the usual “client”. While sleeping, Zed’s childhood friend Eric (played by Jean-Hugues Anglade) knocks on the door to greet him, but at the same time immediately kicks out Zoe forcefully from the hotel room. Eric and Zed are childhood friends who haven’t seen each other for the past 11 years, and were reunited because of a grand plan that Eric has - to rob a federal bank. Zed is an experienced safecracker and Eric is the brains behind the operation, with the ammunition, manpower, and the blueprints of the bank. Eric’s plan consists of drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and partying all night, and the next day - on Bastille Day, to execute the heist.

The night rides high as the heist group drive around Paris, go to a jazz nightclub, and party all night, though Zed is the most reluctant one to be part of the craziness. Morning comes and it’s the day of the heist - the men wear party masks and enter the bank with shotguns and machine guns. Immediately one of the tellers gets blown away, and the body count of the patrons and workers rises. Eric starts going on a high rampage threatening to blow heads off if the manager doesn’t open the safe, but the threats turn to violence and blood quickly. Zed is extremely against Eric’s violent actions as he did not sign up for killing. The conflict turns heavier as later Zed finds that Zoe is also in the bank as a hostage…

“Killing Zoe” was the directorial debut of Roger Avary, who previously had no credits in filmmaking, but had uncredited work helping writing the screenplay to “True Romance” (1993) with friend Quentin Tarantino and also Tarantino’s directorial debut “Reservoir Dogs” (1992). Lawrence Bender, the producer of "Reservoir Dogs” was scouting locations and found an excellent bank that could be used for a film, and so he called Avary and said if he had a script which involved a bank location, it would be possible to use. Avary said he had a script ready and would send it immediately. In fact Avary had nothing, but it motivated him to type up a screenplay involving a bank as soon as possible. The title “Killing Zoe” happened to come first, which is a Roger Corman style of movie-making with making a title first and then producing a product around that. Taking inspiration from French crime movies such as “Le Samourai”, “Rififi”, and “Touchez Pas Au Grisbi”, the story was set in Paris with a flow and attitude of the French new wave cinema, yet only in inspiration and not a carbon copy. Much of the Paris setting was written from Avary’s personal experience visiting Paris and being introduced to the city’s non-touristy elements by his crazy friend. Like the aforementioned “True Romance” and “Reservoir Dogs”, incidental dialogue that has no particular reason to move the plot along, such as talk about “Star Trek”, Viking films, Dixieland music, etc. make up a large portion of the script, which eventually became almost a traditional norm for later indie films of the 90’s and even toward the mainstream - especially with “Pulp Fiction” released the same year in 1994. With financial support from the Canadian government due to Avary’s Canadian citizenship and with “True Romance” producer Samuel Hadida, the production had a few second unit scenes shot in Paris, but surprisingly 90% of the film was shot in Los Angeles.

Eric Stoltz as Zed was not just the first choice but the only choice by Avary, specifically writing the part for him. Stoltz was the most notable name in the film to American audiences, starting as a child actor for television and aslo starring in many films such as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982), "Some Kind of Wonderful" (1987) for director John Hughes, "Say Anything" (1989) and "Singles" (1992) for director Camerone Crowe, and his Golden Globe nominated performance in the 1985 film "Mask". Julie Delpy who played the title character Zoe was quite a star in Europe since her teens debuting in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Detective” (1985), nominated for a Cesar in “La Passion Béatrice” (1987), and played the female lead in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors: White” (1994). Jean-Hugues Anglade who played Eric had critically praised and highly successful films under his resume with “Subway” (1985) and “La Femme Nikita” (1990) for director Luc Besson and “Betty Blue” (1986). Avary thought it would be a dream to get a star like Anglade to appear in the film, but to his surprise, his agents were instead asking “How can we get Mr. Anglade to star in this film?” With an ideal cast attached, Avary was adamant to making the film within his mind without restrictions. There were setbacks with the Canadian producers not liking who he chose or what he wanted to do, but Avary stood his ground, not firing anyone he promised for a job, and his actions seemed to prove positive for the film.

“Killing Zoe” does have its positives and negatives - it is a very entertaining film to watch and for its time (1994) with its dialogue and its visuals. The dialogue is not as say quotable as “Pulp Fiction” but it does have its moments. The visuals in the drugged up night scene was shot using a tilt-shift lens, which was apparently used for the first time in a feature film, creating an unusually distorted image during the scenes. The use of color - red, white, blue - the colors of the French flag, or the American flag for that matter, play a role in the visual palate, with white being purity (the opening scenes), blue being the darkness (the drugged up night), and red for the violence (the bank scenes), with everything from the walls to the clothes representing the tone. For negatives, there are some questionable points. The color palate doesn’t always work, and is probably too subtle to be noticed for most of the time. On the other hand, the red on the bank basement walls seems to overdo things especially with entire wall being covered with red, making it so the blood actually doesn’t stand out. The violence is also inconsistent, with some people being gunned down with huge gunshot squibs going off, while some expected kills are done offscreen. Avary has stated that he didn’t want the violence to be gratuitous, but it is very inconsistent in the bank scenes. He also contradicts himself saying that as the deaths of the American tourist and the bank teller woman were shot on camera, but were deleted from the final cut. Maybe an editorial decision afterward, or just bad effects? The sex scene plays out fine without being gratuitous or graphic, though why it had to cut away to the television showing “Nosferatu” was questionable. Was it to signal that Zoe was some sort of vampire or killer? That’s what I had thought because of the name of the film, but no. It seemed like a rather odd choice. Why wasn’t a Rudolph Valentino silent film instead? It certainly would have fit the mood better than a rat-looking Max Schreck on-screen during a love scene. If the title says “Killing Zoe”, you would think that would be the main focus of the movie - to kill the title character or the conflict of having to kill her, though spoilers away - she is not in any way a target for killing directly. Since the title was thought of first, maybe a twist to make it so Zed has to make a choice between killing Zoe or killing his best friend Eric? But that is not what happens at all.

Other heist films such as “Ocean’s 11” or “The Bank Job” the audience are treated well into both the plans of the heist step by step and also the backgrounds of the characters. Ones such as “Dog Day Afternoon” (1973) unfold character background during the heist. “Killing Zoe” does not delve deeply enough into character backgrounds for most of the characters to give much depth. Zed and Eric get a lot of time on their background, but Zoe is in the film for a very short time being completely absent for the good portion of the middle, and the rest of the gang hired by Eric is not given enough time for each individual. In films with a large cast in a group together such as “The Wild Bunch”, “Ocean’s 11” and “Seven Samurai”, each character is truly a memorable character with traits separating one another, but in “Killing Zoe”, none of the others were particularly memorable, though some did have a memorable line here and there. But who said it? I can’t remember exactly…

“Killing Zoe” was coming right at a fresh new wave of filmmaking in 1994, with films like “Pulp Fiction”. “Clerks”, and “Shallow Grave” making critical waves. “Killing Zoe” did not find a very wide audience due to distribution being limited, and even with Quentin Tarantino’s name being attached to the film as executive producer on the posters, it grossed less than half a million dollars in the United States theatrically on a budget of $1.5 million. Was it because it wasn’t actually directed by Tarantino? Was it because about a quarter of the film's dialogue is in French? The lack of consistency and originality compared to those other films? Possibly all of the above. Mostly a footnote compared to other films released in the same timeframe, “Killing Zoe” did find a video audience throughout the years, eventually leading to a “Director’s Cut” release on its 10th anniversary in France.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide

Video

Warner Brothers Japan presents the film in 1080p in its original theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Utilizing the same source as the French Blu-ray from 2010, it looks quite good. Colors look great and there are no examples of dust, dirt, debris, or digital artifacts to spot, and film stability is not an issue either. Film grain is visible but not distracting at all. The drug scenes using the tilt-shift lenses are a little harder to assess but that is how it was originally shot and presented, so don’t expect things to be clear and crisp there, but distorted and out of focus with intentional.

In addition, the Blu-ray presents the film in the “Director’s Cut” which reinstates a few scenes and violence trimmed for an R-rating. The runtime for the “Director’s Cut” presented on this disc is (99:12).

Audio

English/French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Japanese/French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

The film was shot in bilingual English and French, with 75% of the dialogue in English and 25% of the dialogue in French. Most of the film is front-center heavy with almost all the dialogue coming from the center speaker. The techno based music score by tomandandy would benefit from a surround track, but unfortunately, the 5.1 track does not use the separation channels very well. Surrounds are very subtly used for music with most of it being blasted from the front speakers, and even the bank shootout scenes don’t use the left right or surround channels to full effect. On a positive note, the dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and there are no problems with audio dropouts or audio crackles or pops.

There are optional Japanese subtitles for the main feature. For English speakers, sadly there are no English subtitles for the French portions of the film.

The Japanese/French 2.0 track is a curiosity, as most of the French scenes are kept in French, but the English dialogue is dubbed into Japanese. It is funny that in the Japanese dub, Zed’s character asks in Japanese “I can’t speak French. Do you speak English?” to the characters speaking French and they answer “Yes, I can” in Japanese.

Extras

Audio commentary with director Roger Avary
Avary gives a very detailed commentary about the genesis of the project, how the film was made, the challenges of a first time director, and it’s not all an easy pat on the back for himself. As proud as he is of the film, he gives a lot of credit to the cast and crew that helped make the film, though he does point out negatives such as some actors who gave horrible performances and the problems presented in the small budget. Topics ranging from the influence of the films of Douglas Sirk, Roger Corman, Eric Rohmer, to exploitation films, and the writing process all fill up the densely packed commentary. This was originally recorded for the 10th anniversary French DVD.
in English DTS 2.0 stereo, with optional Japanese subtitles

"Making of" featurette (10:03)
An EPK piece from 1994, featuring behind the scenes clips, interviews with Avary, actors Stoltz, Delpy, Anglade, and others including special effects maestro Tom Savini. Interestingly there are some film clips presented here that didn’t make the final cut, such as the gunning down of the American tourist.
in 480i NTSC, in 1.33:1, in English DTS 2.0 stereo with optional Japanese subtitles

"Shooting Zoe" documentary (59:15)
This 10th anniversary documentary was originally produced for the French DVD from 2004. Featuring retrospective interviews with Avary, cinematographer Tom Richmond, producer Samuel Hadida, and actors Anglade and Delpy, it provides a comprehensive look at the background of the initial troubles financing the film, the making of the film, and the release. A lot of the information is repeated from the commentary track, but it is fresh to hear other voices on the project other than Avary. Too bad that Stoltz or Tarantino couldn’t be interviewed though they appear in vintage footage. A point missed in the documentary was the critical response and the financial box office failure, even though Avary talks about walking into a packed house in Los Angeles when it played theatrically. Maybe because it was the only theater playing it?
in 480i NTSC, in windowboxed 1.66:1, in English and French DTS 2.0 stereo with optional Japanese subtitles

Interviews:
- Eric Stoltz (3:38)
- Julie Delpy (3:13)
- Jean-Hugues Anglade (5:38)
- Roger Avary (6:13)

These interviews were conducted during the making of the film for the electronic press kit. Portions of these interviews were seen in part in the “Making Of” featurette and also in the documentary. Strangely, these interviews are presented in cropped 1.78:1 (approx) here, cutting off the tops and bottoms of the frame. In addition they are not enhanced for widescreen so they are windowboxed with black bars on all four sides of the frame. Stoltz, Delpy, and Avary speak in English while Anglade speaks in French.
in windowboxed 1.78:1, in English and French DTS 2.0 stereo with optional Japanese subtitles

Deleted Scenes
- Jazz Club (0:24)
- Open the Safe (0:54)
- The Gang's Promise (0:49)

These should be labeled “Extended” rather than deleted, as most of the footage does play in the final film. The scenes of the American tourist and the female bank teller being killed on camera are presented here, rather than offscreen in the finished film, in both theatrical and director’s cuts. The source is from a videotape with timecodes running at the bottom of the screen, so don’t expect it to look very good.
in 480i NTSC, in 1.33:1, in DTS 2.0 stereo with optional Japanese subtitles

Cast (text page)
A list of the cast names alongside the corresponding Japanese dub cast.
in Japanese

French Trailer (2:06)
The original French trailer with all dialogue dubbed in French.
in 1080p, in 1.85:1, in French DTS 2.0 stereo with no subtitles

The Japanese Blu-ray ports almost everything from the French Blu-ray. The only extra that didn’t make the cut is the “Film to Storyboard comparison” feature. In addition, a few extras from the 2004 French DVD did not make it - an interview with Julie Delpy on her favorite scenes and the Theatrical Cut of the film are not ported over. It would have been nice to hear some retrospective thoughts from Stoltz or Tarantino, or thoughts over the theatrical distribution, but overall the extras give a great amount of background information.

Packaging

The original pressing comes in a limited edition digi-pack case with a slipcase. Subsequent pressings are in a standard keepcase.

Overall

“Killing Zoe” was overlooked on its release, but remained as a name recognized cult film over the years. It’s not a genre defining piece in any way, but is still an enjoyable piece of 90’s independent film nostalgia. The Japanese Blu-ray presents a great transfer of the Director’s Cut with lengthy supplements, though English speakers should note that the French portions of the film and French language extras are only subtitled in Japanese.

The Film: B- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B

 


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