Sunday, February 19, 2012

100 movies - No. 51: Leon: The Professional

51. Leon: The Professional (1994)
Crime, Drama, Thriller, 133 minutes (extended version)
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman

Leon (Reno) is good at one thing: killing people. In other matters he's almost like a child. He can't read or write and he barely has enough skills to look after himself. He lives in an apartment building and hides away when he's not on a job.

Leon's neighbors include 12-year-old Mathilda (Portman), who lives with her drug-dealing father. When a corrupt cop (Oldman) murders her father and the rest of the family, Mathilda turns to Leon for help. This is where things start to get interesting. Although she's 12, Mathilda has more of an idea of how to survive in the real world than Leon. She offers to take care of him in return for protection and shelter. She also wants to learn how to kill people.

The premise is so unlikely, but it works. Leon teaches Mathilda the tricks of his trade. Some might find it inappropriate to watch a 12-year-old girl dealing with material of this nature, but Portman is superb in her first full-length feature. The two develop believable chemistry and love each other in some ways. The only other thing that Leon cares about is his beloved potted plant. The two are continually on the move to stay safe, so it's not much of a life for a young girl.

The movie works because of the strong relationship between Leon and Mathilda. It's interesting to watch her train and see the bond deepening between the two. Revenge is always on her mind and she tries to persuade Leon to kill the men responsible for murdering her family. The final showdown is intense and contains a lot of action for fans of that genre. But, unlike many action movies, we feel as if we know the main characters and we genuinely care what happens to them.

The Blu-ray contains the original 109-minute theatrical version and the extended 133-minute version. I recommend the latter to see the full extent of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda.

If you like Leon: 

Luc Besson has been responsible for some good action films over the years; both as a writer and as a director. He was involved in the screenplay for Taken, starring Liam Neeson, which is one of the best action movies you'll ever see.

If your taste runs to foreign language movies, Besson directed La Femme Nikita, starring Anne Parillaud. After being sentenced to death, Nikita is offered a role as an assassin for the French government. Jean Reno also has a small role and the movie definitely has a similar feel to Leon.

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  1. One of my favorite movies. Gary Oldman was astonishing.

  2. Yep, three good performances from Oldman and the main two. The relationship between Reno and Portman was believable to me.

  3. Wonderful film. Natalie Portman is astonishingly good being so young while Gary Oldman shows exactly why he is one of the best actors out there.