Killing Zoe is a movie that drops into ones' lap straight from the 'summer of Tarantino'. It was written and directed by Roger Avary, who was in fact Tarantino's co-worker at the now-iconic video store where both dreamed of getting into movies. As the story goes, the producer for Reservoir Dogs had come across an unused bank while scouting locations for that movie. Since it was unused, it was likely that its use could be had gratis, and since no-one turns down such a deal, he called Avary and asked if he had a screenplay that took place entirely in a bank. If so, he said, they could likely make a movie for nearly bupkes.

"Of course I do," replied Avary, and promptly hung up the phone to write one. What came out of it all was Killing Zoe, a movie which is difficult to simply dismiss as the blood-drenched action/new wave thriller it is trying so hard to be. Executive produced by Tarantino, it comes across as a Euro-styled descent into criminal loss of control. In fact, it can be compared to another Tarantino product, the QT-written True Romance, with one key difference. The protagonist in the latter (Clarence Worley, played ably by Christian Slater) is the epitome of cool under stress. He has things under control, even when they don't go as planned; it's this calculating street cred that makes him the one viewers want to see walk away from the inferno of gunfire and craziness that his actions precipitate. In Zoe, however, our hero Zed (played with a detachment bordering on catatonia by Eric Stoltz - note that this is not a bad thing) is notable for the opposite - he watches himself slide down the path into the flames, but remains maddeningly passive. It isn't until the very end of the film that he acts at all - and then only when the choice is forced on him by the entire weight of the movie.

A brief synopsis. Zed (Stoltz) arrives in Paris at an unknown time (he tries to learn the time from various others) for 'business.' Lonely, he takes his cabbie up on an offer for arranged companionship, and meets the titular Zoe, played with the requisite nervous forwardness and pert nipples by Julie Delpy. So far, so good. It is with the arrival of the friend he has come to Paris to meet, Eric (Jean-Hugues Anglade) that the real driver of the story appears. Eric has called Zed to Paris for his 'business' - and as we wonder how the two of them could be called friends, Zed begins to sink into Eric's deranged world of guns, drugs, nightclubs and strangely-characterized sex.

The bank job which is, in fact, the point comes almost as a letdown, but no worries - it'll grab hold soon enough.

At the end of the movie, I felt somewhat confused. The story had ended, completely; there had been closure, and everything had played out into a distinct path. Yet I was unsatisfied with the ending. Not in a wanting-more sort of way, but in an unexplainable wanting-something-different sort of way. I can't even explain how Zoe's last words actually made me nervous.

The film is much more cleanly shot than Tarantino's work. There is less bold camera work, but it's very crisp. The obligatory camera effects for the drug episodes is overdone in some places, well done in others - in one, the perspective change (everyone gets slighly tall and narrow) is very subtly extended past the rest of the effects, to the point where I began wondering if my TV was in the wrong mode. I still can't tell you where it ended, but - again, properly - it wasn't when Zed woke up.

Although the film doesn't take place entirely in a bank, a bank does feature prominently. The remainder of the film, with the exception of the opening and closing POV drivethroughs and some night-time, drug-addled car rides, takes place entirely indoors. This is not least due to the fact that the film was shot in California, with the exception of the aforementioned 'mood setting' sequences in Paris. It takes place entirely in Paris, though, and the sets used do nothing to disabuse us of that notion. It's a well-done geographic illusion.

Music is used to paint the walls. The film opens with an electronica drive-through of Paris, culminating in an approach to Charles de Gaulle airport (I think) - at which point Zed slides into the back of a cab. It closes with a similar run. The music during the movie itself is fairly subdued, used to emphasize rather than set moods.

This is a decent anti-thriller. I'm still unsure about the end, and I can't tell if that's a good or bad thing.

Killing Zoe (1994)

Director/Writer: Roger Avary
Run time: 96 minutes


Zed: Eric Stoltz
Zoe: Julie Delpy
Eric: Jean-Hugues Anglade
Fran├žois: Tai Thai
Ricardo: Bruce Ramsay

Data taken from IMDB. Some anecdotes taken from Avary's Domain, All else taken from viewing the film.

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