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France 1994
Directed by
Luc Besson
133 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
5 stars

Leon The Professional

Luc Besson films, typical of the so-called "cinéma du look" are so often heavy handed exercises in designer chic, and like haute couture exhibitionism, the self-indulgence can become slightly nauseating.  With Léon: The Professional Besson’s tendency to excess finds a pitch-perfect balance between the meretricious and the heartfelt, the ridiculous and the sublime.  Taking the vicariously thrilling Hollywood action movie template he cross-fertilizes it with an off-beat love story that some will probably find more questionable than the film’s entire body count and serves up the combination in marvellous style.

Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is the 12-year old girl daughter of a small time New York City drug-dealer. Also living in her building is the taciturn, milk-drinking Leon (Jean Reno) a professional hit man who saves her when her entire family is massacred by a sociopathic cop (Gary Oldman) and his henchmen. Mathilda reckons that most of them had it coming but not her little brother and being no shrinking violet she persuades Leon to teach her the tricks of the trade.

Léon: The Professional is a black comedy -  the shoot-em-ups are wonderfully over-the-top, it’s dead funny in places (Reno’s take-off of John Wayne is priceless) yet the relationship between Mathilda and.Leon is seriously poignant and provides the substance that is so often lacking in the action movie . There are many films that have an older, world-weary man revitalized by childhood innocence but none come close to the moral provocation that Besson exercises here. However it is this distinctively original (it is essentially a reworking of the relationship between Nikita and Bob in La Femme Nikita, 1990) is exactly what makes the film so intriguing.

Jean Reno, in a role that recalls his "cleaner" character from La Femme Nikita is wonderful as the phlegmatic hit-man and 13 year old Natalie Portman, in what is only her second screen appearance, gives what remains to this day her best-ever performance as the precocious Mathilda, a kind of fille fatale to Leon's loner - simple soul who lives in an isolated world in which, until she turns up, his only friend is a potted plant. Besson has weighed down the world with some vastly-inflated tosh but with Léon: The Professional he gave it a masterpiece.

DVD Extras: Extended Director’s Cut; Leon - A 10 Year Retrospective; Jean Reno: The Road To Leon; Natalie Portman: Starting Young; Theatrical Trailer.

Available from: Madman

 

 

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