Léon (aka, “The Professional”) 1994

The three things you need to know about Léon. First, Jean Reno, as the eponymous hitman and protagonist, is a complete badass. Two, Natalie Portman makes her screen debut in this film as the orphaned tween, Mathilda, and she acts her scrawny ass off. Three, Gary Oldman, as demented, bent, evil DEA agent named Stansfield, is gloriously insane.

Oh, and Danny Aiello plays the standard Danny Aiello character.

“Léon” was written and directed by Luc Besson, whose breakout film was “La Femme Nikita.”

Léon is a cleaner, sort of jargon for a hitman. Danny Aiello gives him jobs and holds his money. Amongst Léon’s neighbors is a Jerry Springer family, the head of which is Mathilda’s drug-dealing father. Also in the home is the father’s skankwhore girlfriend, and her superskankwhore teenaged daughter. And a sweet, innocent, non-bullet-proof four year-old boy, Mathilda’s beloved little brother.

Mathilda’s pa has engaged in unethical business practices with a large amount of drugs he was holding for Gary Oldman. Bad dad swears he wasn’t the one who cut the cocaine from 100% to 90% purity. Gary Oldman moves right up next to the dad, sniffing his head, his shoulders, his face. (The “WHAT THE SHIT” look on actor Michael Badalucco’s face was not acting: he was seriously discomfited by Mr Oldman)

People get killed, and Mathilda knocks on Léon’s door. Against his better judgment, he takes her in.

Mathilda wants revenge, and she persuades Léon to teach her how to clean. Their relationship is interesting. Léon is a complete loner, and Mathilda grew up in a white trash rumpus circus. Worse, pubescent Mathilda develops a serious crush on Léon. (He has a couple awesome spit-takes with milk)

Jean Reno played Léon as borderline defective. He isn’t stupid, but he has a sort of simple personality. He drinks huge amounts of milk, and his best friend is a houseplant. If he hadn’t chosen this tack, “Léon” could have drifted into skeevy “Lolita” territory.

One thing I really like about Léon’s badassedness is that we see him work for it. He drinks milk, and does huge regimens of calesthenics that made me sore just watching him. He works at it. He’s not just some big guy with a gun. He’s smart. He has a code. He is a professional.

IMDB.com users gave “Léon” an 8.6 rating, placing it at #32 on their Top 250 Movies list, above “Citizen Kane,” “Sunset Blvd,” and “Dr Strangelove.”

I really liked “Léon.” I gave it an 8/10 on IMDB. It’s an excellent film, but it’s not what I would call a “classic.”

Holy shit, Gary Oldman’s creepy though. It’s worth watching just to see him. The beauty is that the film more than holds its own even when he’s not on screen.

Grade: A-/B+ (I vacillate)

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8 Responses to “Léon (aka, “The Professional”) 1994”

  1. Léon is one of my favorite Reno films–probably the favorite!

    • I agree. He and Ms Portman have lovely chemistry overall, but the scene where he introduces Piggy to the poor crushed girl is sublime.

  2. Gary Oldman plays so many good, intense, and yes creepy characters. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad he’s finally nominated for an oscar. Do you know he was married to Uma Thurman?
    I liked this movie too.

    • I did know that, because I hated him for taking Uma away from me.

      I hope he wins the Oscar. He is an amazing actor who is always top shelf. His Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK” is spot-on.

  3. I thought this was a really good movie — and like you and MT, I think it’s my favorite Reno. As director, Besson did a remarkable job of walking an amazingly difficult line with Portman, balancing the child-like, but also the young woman-like nature of her and her relationship with Leon.

    • Boy, is it a fine line, too. Mathilda is a nymphet, as Humbert-squared would call her.
      The most erotic shot in “V for Vendetta” imho is when Natalie kisses V. The camera lingers on her sensuous lower lip disengaging from V’s mask. There was a close up of Natalie in “Léon” and it dawned on me that it was the same lovely mouth, just attached to a crying little girl.

  4. Leon launched a serious Jean Reno crush that I’ve carried through the most ridiculous movies—Crimson Rivers, Godzilla, Wasabi (where he goes up against the yakuza while protecting his half-Japanese daughter, another nymphet), Empire of the Wolves and other action films which were beneath his caliber. He’s a kind of thinking man’s Clint Eastwood, without the squint.

    Then again, I am a sucker for French actors in B-movies. I also still carry a torch for Christopher Lambert of Highlander.

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