#32: Léon [The Professional] (1994)

What's this? A guest blog on Camilla Tenn's IMDb Challenge? Didn't see that coming, huh. Well, I hope that this review meets your high expectations following the already fabulous stockpile of accounts. I will endeavour to do my best. For those of you who know me, it's Ted. For those of you who don't, it's Ted.

So to number 32 on IMDb's list of legends, Léon - The Professional. Written and Directed by the relatively quiet Frenchman Luc Besson, Léon's style is something that sets it apart with a certain 'je ne sais quoi,' if you will excuse the apt yet still slightly pretentious use of the French expression. It is a movie that made a permanent definition in the film world with the circular glasses on the long face of our hero Jean Reno. It is however, the performace of the film's budding Femme Fatale, Mathilda, played by the wonderful Natalie Portman (yes, I am a fan), that completes this 8.6 (quite rightly so) rated classic.

Barely a few minutes into Léon, you experience the unique character of Besson's filmmaking, finding yourself captivated instantly. The combination of crisp sounds and dialogue against the silence, paired with close-up shots (particularly those of Léon's signature shiny circular rimmed glasses), makes for an atmosphere that is only lawfully interrupted by the swift death of 90s hair-styled henchmen. We hear occasional inflections of guitar that adds character to every scene, breaking the silences.  As Léon goes about his business, you are treated to the whimpers and heavy breathing of terrified baddies, doomed to inevitable death at the hands of Little Italy's most professional 'cleaner.'

With a great first impression of our hero, we then look forward to the disruption of his solitary life of watering his 'best friend' plant and solo watching of Gene Kelly on the television, Mathilda. A decidedly young Natalie Portman plays the daughter of a typically dysfunctional American family, largely numbed to life's dangers, she jumps at the chance to ride with the intriguing Léon. She is, though at this point not obvious to Léon, his saviour, filling a hole in his life and teaching him to love again (1-2-3-awwww).

With relatively (and pleasingly) minimal resistance  Léon agrees to teach little Mathilda how to 'clean.' It would after all, be a shame to befriend a hitman and not at least learn how to shoot someone in a park with a rifle, no? It is not until Mathilda finds a purpose to put these new found skills, including copious milk drinking, to good use. Avenging her family (in particular her brother - the most innocent and least horrible family member) becomes her mission, Léon initially being unwilling to jump aboard the revenge train - next stop Deathtown.

We sense here, that Léon's killer heart has melted slightly around the edges, allowing him to get on board and pursue the film's incredibly effective villain, Stansfield - played by a young looking (well, it was the 90s) Gary Oldman. Skirting around awkward scenes demonstrating the naive infatuation Mathilda has for Léon we move closer towards the finale, with the promise of multiple gunshots and explosions that Besson somehow manages to make classy. It is the rock and roll of American action cinema, with the edge of European understatement and it is just great.

To continue any further in the story here would be damaging. So to avoid spoiling what is a fully satisfying ending I must cease and desist.

Understated action and measured dialogue makes  Léon a joy to watch and listen to. Thoroughly earning its place in the the top 100, I was pleased to watch it again after quite a few years. 

Favourite quote courtesy of Fatman: "Somebody's coming up. Someone serious."

He's not wrong.



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