Leon: The Professional (1994)

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A gritty thriller with a hugely interesting, unusual and well acted central relationship dynamic. A great movie in looking more at the makings of a hitman or girl than the actual hits themselves which I like a lot.

Leon is a hired hitman who one day takes in the little girl next door called Mathilda, after her family is shot dead. The following centres on him attempting to teach her his ways and her finding a figure to love even if she doesn’t love him as the father persona he becomes.

The director, Luc Besson makes the parts of New York look grungy and rundown and through this film we see ‘Little Italy’ and other parts of NYC in a new light that help make the film even more interesting, slick and cool. He has a knack for directing adrenaline pumped sequences and in particular the opening and closing action scenarios are tense and entertaining. The first in setting up the mysterious and ghost like nature of Leon as a hitman and the last in going all out to blow a building to kingdom come and try and kill Leon and the girl. He uses close ups well to in providing senses of odd intimacy or squared claustrophobic shots to build tension and intrigue. The opening scene after pulling into ‘Little Italy’ gives us these cut off frames with sections of faces taking up the entire scene as Tony divulges a client to Leon. A great opening in giving away the hit but not the man himself, at least not yet.

The acting is superb and Jean Reno plays the titular man well, seeming both confident and vulnerable at the same time. His knack for sleeping upright on a chair in the dark shows his worry of what could be after him and he plays the unread, uncultured side well demonstrating blank faces or gruff responses to portray lack of emotion, but there’s something in his way or his eye that tells you there’s more to him and later on in the film that becomes clear and he acts the sad backstory to good effect in making the hitman human. Natalie Portman, in her feature film debut is sensational and engaging, cute and ballsy and steals the show on the most part. You kind of believe her love for the man however strange it all is, you feel for her and the moment she walks past her flat to try and enter Leon’s life is heartbreaking as you will for him to open the door. She acts the roof off the joint in being chirpy, smiley, sad, kooky, angry, scared and a whole load of other describing words. The acting between Reno and Portman is believable and sort of surreal but heartwarming too, as he helps her and she too helps him. The game where she tries to make him guess celebrities is hilarious and odd but Portman exudes confidence and in that it makes the sight of a young girl dressed as Madonna or Marilyn Monroe acceptable as her character would do that. Gary Oldman hams it up as the deranged DEA agent which feels too over the top, there’s times when he channels the crazy just enough that he’s chilling and then he pushes it over the top again, in a way that’s suitable for his later role as a villain in ‘The Fifth Element’, but here it feels pantomime-y at times.

The slightly weird factor is the relationship though, it is sweet and interesting at times as he tries to be like a mentor to her and by the end of the film it’s clear he becomes a type of paternal presence in her life, but the flip side of how she feels and how she keeps trying to kiss or sleep with him is just, there and seems too much. The lying about her age would happen but I can’t believe her character would be so obsessed with this man, after all she didn’t like her step mother or half-sister and they were bimbo sluttily drawn characters so why would she follow suit. It’s a unique look at the developing bond between them but it could have been just as good without the constant way in making her want him sexually. The symbolism of Leon’s plant showed he was nurturing the girl and treating Mathilda to grow. I didn’t think there needed to be that added layer without any explanation to it; a little troubling, though it didn’t take me out of the film and it’s certainly different, a bold move and Portman and Reno act it brilliantly.

An entertaining and sometimes dark hitman thriller with an unusual yet amazingly acted relationship storyline that becomes the main structure and works to good effect in seeing how fun, life and death affects these two characters.

8.5/10

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