Leon: The Professional (1994)
His sunglasses will forever be iconic…and so will his protégé. Léon: The Professional tells the positively irresistible story of Léon, an amateur botanist and professional hitman played by Jean Reno. When Mathilda (Natalie Portman), Léon’s neighbor, has her entire family murdered in cold blood by a deranged federal agent (played masterfully by Gary Oldman), Léon takes her in and teaches her his trades…the killing one, not horticulture. But when Mathilda “jumps the gun” and gets herself in trouble, Léon must decide if saving the young girl is worth risking his own life.
A subtle, cerebral thriller, director Luc Besson’s Léon starts slowly but finishes with a powerful, explosive end that any film lover can be proud of. In fact, Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver came to mind on more than one occasion—from the soft, innocent eyes of the films’ young leading ladies to their bloody final scenes. It’s in the same respectable, subtle class of thriller that Taxi Driver is in, one that my father would likely walk out of because he “don’t get it.”
Jean Reno has the control to act with rage or silence and shows his versatility throughout the movie (if you’ve seen Pink Panther, you know he can be pretty funny too). In Natalie Portman’s very first feature film, she begins an illustrious career with a rather unusual role (the role is even creepier if you can get your hands on the deluxe edition with the original movie, 13 minutes longer than the edited). Gary Oldman is wonderful, his “classical” taste reminds me of Boondock Saints’ Willem Defoe and his lack of glasses somehow makes him even more mysterious 18 years ago. Now you can catch his “flawless” (Peter Travers’ word) performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The 2-disc deluxe edition, a 2005 re-release, is filled with fascinating stories from the set, interviews with the cast and crew, an extra 13 minutes of run time, and retrospectives from Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. I found my copy at Big Lots for $8, it is well worth seeing.
Ranked 32nd on IMDb’s “Top 250” list, Leon: The Professional is a tour de force. See it.