This week, I re-watched the 1994 Luc Besson film Leon (or known as The Professional in America, but usually refered to by both the names, Leon: The Professional). Luc Besson’s made some of the most fun action films that I’ve ever seen: Lockout, District B13, The Transporter, Taken, The Fifth Element.
The film stars Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and 11 year-old Natalie Portman in her first major role. Reno plays the titular character Leon, a silent-but-deadly style assassin whose next door neighbors get brutally murdered by some corrupt cops.
The only survivor is their young daughter Mathilda (Portman) who begs Leon to take her under his wing. He reluctantly does so and trains her in the ways of his trade.
Mathilda is desperate to avenge the death of her family and Leon is desperate to keep Mathilda safe.
It’s a heart-warming tale of a a young girl and her friend, a cold-blooded assassin. Now, unlike Hitman, where the assassin does not have a heart of gold or a tender side, that’s the whole point of Leon: The Professional. Leon starts out the movie as a cold-blooded killer who massacres a whole group of gangsters and ends up a warm father to a young girl. He is really the trope-codifier for assassins with rules: No women, no children.
Did I say young? Because Mathilda is inappropriately mature. For a 12 year-old, she smokes cigarettes, longs to murder people, and totally comes on to Leon sexually. But Mathilda brings out the warmth in Leon. Prior to the two meeting, all Leon does at night (when he’s not killing people) is drink milk (exclusively milk), watch musicals, tend to his houseplant, and sit in the darkness with his sunglasses on.
Jean Reno fantastically portrays the quiet, subdued contract killer and Natalie Portman is absolutely spectacular in her coming of age story. But who really steals the show is Gary Goddamn Oldman. Gary Oldman invests everything into every single character he portrays. Even shithole movies like Red Riding Hood are made better by his portrayal. His corrupt DEA agent is absolutely sadistic and wonderful at the same time. He is a joy to watch in every single one of his scenes and draws all attention and focus right to him, whether he’s massacring an entire family (including women and children), discussing Beethoven (“Overtures like that get my… juices flowing. So powerful. But after his openings, to be honest, he does tend to get a little fucking boring”), or saying to bring him everyone.
As demonstrated in the above clip, this is one of Gary Oldman’s hammiest roles ever. This is in sharp contrast to Jean Reno’s performance as the quiet, subdued, almost childish Leon. Oldman’s haminess isn’t really out of place though, it absolutely fitting for his character, and no where near as hammy as Oldman’s other Luc Besson character: Zorg from The Fifth Element.
You see, this movie was made just for shits and giggles as filler while Luc and Gary were working on The Fifth Element. But Bruce Willis’ schedule made them have to stall production, at which point, Besson started to talk to Oldman about a film he had started imagining (Leon: The Professional) and they decided to make it with the The Fifth Element crew. Besson wrote the film in 30 days, called up his friend Jean Reno and they made the thing. Now, I love The Fifth Element for its gleeful cheese, but I think that Leon is an objectively better film.
It’s an incredibly fun, intense, and really quite heartwarming film that I consistently enjoy and would highly recommend. Next week, I’ll be back on campus and heading to the cinema to check out the new Ethan Hawke film Getaway.
Meanwhile, be sure to check out my science column: Trope-ic Thunder
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