Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel
Synopsis: Leon (Reno) is a career hitman, whom reluctantly takes a twelve-year-old orphaned girl, Mathilda (Portman) into his care. He becomes emotionally attached to this young girl, though, and at her request starts introducing her to his trade.
This is one of those films that I have been hoping to see for a long time, more so as it is the highest ranking films in the Internet Movie Database (currently #33) that I had not yet seen. With this high recommendation, I ran the risk of having high hopes that would soon afterwards be dashed. Thankfully though, despite being quite familiar with the synopsis, I found this film quite an entertaining experience.
Leon is introduced during a hit, when he takes out an armada of hired goons, armed to the teeth, to finally get to his mark and deliver his employers message. It is a thrilling sequence which highlights the Leon is a man at the top of his chosen profession. Indeed, and alternate title for the film is “The Professional”. It is easy to see however, how a young girl from down the hall managed to get under his skin and become a significant element of his life. She is returning home and passing her apartment as her family is slaughtered, and proceeds to Leon’s door and rings the bell. After an internal conflict he lets young Mathilda in.
Both leads are fantastic. Reno is hard when he needs to be, but it is clear he has had little opportunity in his life to practice social graces. Mathilda absolutely confuses him often, and this is often played to delightful comic effect. Mathilda is more than ordinary though, as she is the one to embrace the opportunity to become a “cleaner”. This is Portman’s first feature film, and she shows a level of talent that is equal to her more recent performances as she has matured. Indeed, despite not being the title character herself, she often threatens to steal the show from Leon, and at times the film actually feels more like it is her story rather than his. Her character’s desire to be come a hitman is well established, as she seeks revenge against Stansfield (Oldman), the man responsible for her family’s death. Both character’s grow from knowing each other, but Mathilda has the most complete story arc.
As mentioned above, Oldman plays the main villain role here. This is crazy Oldman at his delightful best. He is a psychotic type that takes drugs and often goes to such extremes of insanity that his colleagues are at a loss to calm him down. Oldman is one of the true master’s of our age, and he really brings it home in this film.
There is a lot of violence, and at times there are graphic depictions of shot wounds, so this is not really a film to be watched by the squeamish. Also, though Leon has a code of “No women, no children”, this is not a tenet held to by Stansfield, and so images of women and children being murdered in cold blood can be a little disturbing. These scenes do highlight that despite his profession, Leon is an honourable man, and sometimes those in perhaps evil professions are not always as bad as those placed in a position to do good.
4 stars out of 5