Leon The Professional: A Review by Nate Hill

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Leon The Professional is purely and simply one of the best films ever made. From Natalie Portman’s stunning debut performance, to Gary Oldman’s absolutely nightmarish baddie, to Jean Reno’s lovable and eccentric protagonist, it’s a classic, a piece of achingly beautiful cinema that I could watch on the daily and never get tired of. The three actors are the bricks which make the film so special, and Luc Besson’s fluid, sensitive direction is the mortar which holds them together. Portman is simply miraculous in her first film role as Matilda, a young girl whose entire family is murdered by psychotic DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Oldman). Highly introverted assassin Leon (Reno), takes pity and allows the orphaned girl into his home and his life. Matilda is a strange girl whose specific idiosyncrasies both clash and amusinly interact with Leon’s. He is an exile of sorts as well, with a tragic past and not a whole lot going on in his life besides the contracts he carries out for kindly, paternal mobster Tony (a phenomenal Danny Aiello). Leon and Matilda makes an interesting team; she is brash, unfiltered and lively, he is reserved, awkward and deafeningly quiet, resulting in unique character building and bonding that Besson handles wonderfully. Now, there’s two versions of this film, because apparantly American people can’t handle slightly taboo undertones, even when they’re handled in a caring and tasteful manner. You definitely want to see the longer, European cut which has some interesting scenes that crackle with sexual tension on Portman’s part. Yes, she’s twelve years old, at a very confusing crossroads of her life, the stark black and white mindset of a child dissolving into the very ambiguous and complex psyche of a woman. She believes she loves Leon, and he handles her advances in a way that requires maturity and intuition that he never had to begin with, but rises to the occasion. Call these scenes what you will, but there’s no denying their esential place in the film’s complete story, and to censor them for the sake of prudeness is a straight up crime. Matilda wants revenge against Stansfield and his team, which means going up against his wrath, and also means Portman sharing some incredible scenes with a voracious Oldman. Oh, Gary. This is his final form, the most terrifying villain in his stable, a flamboyant, deranged lunatic that one can scarce believe ever was allowed to be a cop. There’s a fairy tale esque feel to the film, where the bad guys do what they want in the urban forest, never in uniform and free to roam, kill and terrorize with the full might of the NYPD at their dastardly disposal. Oldman is the Joker on mescaline, and in fact Stansfield pops mysterious pills from a little casket, when he’s not murdering people while listening to Beethoven. He’s loud, scary, stylish and animalistic, so intense one feels like his very presence will melt the tv screen. Portman is so superb it’s hard to believe this was so early on in her career. In my mind she did her best work right out of the gate, in this film. Matilda is wise for her years, which she uses to mask the gulf of vulnerability residing in her, a hallmark trait found in children from abusive households. The family and friendship she finds with Leon strengthens her as as human being, and we start to see the emerging person she will continue to grow up to be. Natalie displays all of this uncannily well, and is the bruised, beating heart at the centre oft the film. Reno sells the eccentricities (Leon loves golden age Hollywood musicals) and sorrowful resolve of Leon so well, taking a character that is all action and very little talk, and speaking volumes with both body language and silence which, take it from me, is tough stuff. Besson, whether directing a quiet, introspective scene or a balletic action sequence, gives everything a stylized, earthy quality that makes the film stand out amongst other action ventures. You could spend a billion dollars on production design, but it all comes down to the human element behind the wheel, and if you don’t have a director, cast and team that has the current running through them to create something special, all those dollars go out the window. This one has all of that, and is a solid gold classic.

One thought on “Leon The Professional: A Review by Nate Hill”

  1. Absolutely agree. Besson’s finest masterpiece and highest achievement. None of the many screenplays and characters Besson has created since have come anywhere close to this level of intimate sincerity and tenderness, which is a shame b/c all of his productions would benefit from more authenticity and less reliance on asinine gimmicks.

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