The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element (1997)

“I told you. Perfect.”

Today’s Saturday Replay is one of my absolute favorite movies, The Fifth Element.

The film is a superb adventure, a clever comedy, and a fascinating look at human condition, set in a beautifully-realized future world populated by colorful and wonderfully memorable characters, and punctuated by a couple of electric action sequences. It’s a bright shiny ball of fun, with a nice heart. It’s truly fantastic.

Bruce Willis stars as Major Korben Dallas, recently retired from the Army’s Elite Special Forces, and living a modest existence as a taxi driver in twenty-third century Brooklyn. His unhappy retirement is thrown for a loop when a beautiful woman lands in his cab. She is Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), the Fifth Element, the perfect being intended to defend all life against pure evil itself. Things aren’t going well for Leeloo up to this point. The government is after her, an agents of evil are trying to kill her. However, she managed to find the right man to turn things around so she can try to save the world.

I’m being intentionally sparse with my description because I really think that the twists and turns of the plot are a big part of what makes this film so great. It’s the kind of film that you can appreciate the first time, yet still find new details and notice ways the puzzle fits together the tenth time.

Willis is fantastic as Dallas, early in the film he’s a down on his luck divorced hack with a big mouth, living in a one room apartment. He claims that he prefers this life, but things obviously aren’t going well for him. Then, as events unfold, Dallas comes into his element, as a gun-toting badass on a mission. This isn’t new territory for Bruce Willis, but he’s great at it.

That said, it’s really Jovovich that makes the movie work. Leeloo has to be brilliant but naïve, dangerous but vulnerable, the perfect weapon, but helpless. Milla Jovovich absolutely nails it. The film would be worth watching just for her, even if she didn’t (briefly) get naked.

The supporting cast is excellent; Gary Oldman is both intimidating and comical as ruthless corporate criminal Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. Since the main antagonist is disembodied evil in the form of a small planet, Zorg has to be both a bad guy in his own right, a leader, yet completely cowed by the big bad. On the other side of the coin, Priest Vito Cornelius is the wise but somewhat doddering keeper of knowledge who’s willing but clearly massively unable to lead the fight. Then there’s Chris Tucker as fast-talking celebrity radio-host Ruby Rhod. He’s the kind of character that’s funny at first, then annoying, then he grows on you as the character’s depth and the personality underlying his on-air persona is exposed.

The film is filled with lots of little touches that I really liked. The 23rd century world is really unlike the futures that science fiction normally presents. It’s neither a dystopia nor a utopia, nor exactly like the present but with space ships. It’s a really well-constructed imaginative yet entirely-plausible vision of the future.

The film walks a fine line between action and comedy, all the while maintaining a sense of grand adventure. It’s brilliantly written, very well acted, and slickly directed. It’s an absolute Must See.

[The Fifth Element (1997) – Director: Luc Besson – Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, some sexuality and brief nudity]

OM|ED Rating: Must See