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Luc Besson's movie Léon (The Professional) gives us an intense story
which is maximized in potential by the casting of the movie done by Todd
Thaler. Every aspect of the movie delivers to the audience and makes an
impressive overall package. Jean Reno plays a character named Léon who
learned to repress his emotions in order to perform his job as a
or hit-man. His secluded world is shattered by the young girl named
Mathilda who lives on the same floor as he does in an apartment building.
When she turns to him for help, he learns about living a normal life, even
if the circumstances which unite them are far from normal.
The performance delivered by then twelve-year old Natalie Portman as Mathilda is nothing short of brilliant. Her ability to relate to others with body movement and facial gestures is matched by few, she really brings raw emotion and believability to a difficult role. Mathilda and Léon are unexpectedly thrown together, but learn to value life from their chance encounter, and how valuable a friendship can be.
Jean Reno as Léon gives us a solemn and calculated character who sets all of his energy on his assignments until her is given something else to care about. Mathilda gives him the daughter that he never had, while Léon serves as a father and friend to her. Gary Oldman, as the corrupt DEA Agent Norman Stansfield, offers the viewers an amazingly wired and electrical performance which pushes the envelope. He moves the story along by his actions. Oldman offers us a memorable portrait of a sadistically obsessed man who stops short of nothing to get what he wants.
The Professional is what movie-making is all about. Without the overuse of special effects, a large shooting location, or a commercially star studded cast, we are given all that could possibly be asked for in a movie. Portman, Oldman, and Reno, along with Danny Aiello as the hit-contractor Tony remind us that there is no substitute for great acting. There are elements of comedy, drama, and action, and great original music by Eric Serra adds to the energy the film already encapsulates. The most impressive thing about the movie is its story which is basic but is maximized by all the other elements which go into the making of the movie. Simply put, an intense and impressive movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With enough blood and gore to please any fan of action movies, and a unique
love story to please the ladies, this is a great movie for couples to watch
together. However, to truly comprehend the beauty of this film, you must see
the European Cut.
The U.S. version is still a great movie, but it cuts out 24 minutes which contain much of the heart of the movie and most of what makes the film a work of art instead of the usual action fodder. Elements of the story which are only hinted at in the U.S. cut become the centerpiece of the story when the un-cut version is seen.
The two main characters are a recently-orphaned girl who is wise beyond her years and a hitman who is still an innocent. Their relationship unfolds against a backdrop of murder and revenge as director Luc Besson explores issues of age and maturity, good and evil, and the interplay of life, death and love.
The acting in this film is superb. Reno has an expressive face which conveys a myriad of emotions with great sensitivity and few words. He is cold as ice as the almost super-human 'professional', but his performance is most moving when he reveals his sensitive side. Watching as his wounded soul slowly begins to heal is enough to touch the heart of any woman, but it is handled so subtly that it never becomes too 'sappy'.
In her film debut, Natalie Portman turns in a performance that is beautiful beyond belief. She manages the transition from a frightened child to a woman capable of killing so convincingly that it makes the relationship between she and Leon not only believable, but understandable.
Gary Oldman is just the best psycho there is, and it is kind of nice to see him without all the strange makeup for a change. As a dirty cop in this film he personifies evil, and it is a joy to watch him do his thing.
The special effects are all you could hope for. Besson does great actions scenes - especially the explosions. There is also a lot of humor and when you throw in the tender love story - this picture has it all!
This movie is rated 63 on the imdb top 250 movie list, showing that people
obviously like this movie, and with good reason. But why the hell didn;t
this movie garner at least one single oscar or golden globe nomination??
natalie portman's performance was terrific as the emotionally ravaged matildha - best actress nomination for sure.
jean reno should have been nominated for a best actor nomination. the fact that the audience is led to feel sympathy and sorrow for a hitman speaks words enough about his performance.
gary oldman is fantastic as the corrupt and psychotic cop. his character is so repulsive and chilling, but at the same time so quirky and interesting to watch. best supporting actor nomination.
luc besson. when this man will get some kudos for his work i never know. the professional, in my opinion, is his greatest achievement as a director and, considering the fact he has helmed classic cult films such as nikita and the fifth element, the professional must rate highly as one of the best films of the 90's atleast! best film and best director nominations should have been given.
but no, it was all too easy to heap praise on the feel good movie forrest gump, and shun the movie that, through its intensity and tragedy, better highlights the value of life and love.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film was absolutely amazing. I have spent hours re-watching various
scenes and noticing all the perfection with which they are acted and
directed. It's not the violence or action sequences that make this movie so
great (although they are well done...), but rather moments like where
Mathilda knocks on Leon's door. It would be so easy to just film the door
opening, but instead we see light illuminating Natalie Portman's face,
symbolizing something angelic. And the moment has so much more meaning.
I know a lot of people who have seen this film because they are action fans. I'm not. But I'm glad I finally found it, because it's a wonderful film in so many other ways.
Luc Besson's "The Professional" is sort of a companion piece to his international breakthrough hit "La Femme Nikiti", and in many ways it's an even better film. It raises the stakes of Besson's playful women-with-guns theme by making the heroine a 12-year-old, played by a then unknown Natalie Portman. Jean Reno is excellent as her assassin trainer and surrogate father. Oldman is completely over the top in one of his best bad-guy roles, obsessed with both Beethoven and butchery. As a gritty, suspenseful thriller, this film won't leave action fans feeling cheated, but the film is so much more than that. At the center of "The Professional" is a wonderful father and daughter-like relationship between two damaged strangers who find solace in each other.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Leon (Jean Reno) is a tortured soul. He lives in squalor and misery, never
truly happy or at peace with himself. After all, he is a hitman. He lives
quietly from kill to kill, harming no-one whom he has not been paid to
assassinate. He is a simplistic, childlike man who lives by his own set of
morals but is troubled by them. The one thing he seems to fear above all
else is change.
Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is Leon's neighbour. A young girl, she lives with her father, step-mother, half-sister and half-brother. As unhappy as Leon, she lives in awe of the dark stranger, unaware of his true profession. Beaten by her parents and sister, she has abandoned school and instead spends the day watching cartoons and trying to escape from the real world.
When Mathilda's family is brutally murdered by a drug crazed Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), her only chance for survival is to hide with her neighbour. When she learns of Leon's true identity, she becomes infatuated with both him, and the grim world he inhabits.
This stark portrayal of humanity and inhumanity is produced with the style and finesse that one expects from Luc Besson. In addition, the combined talents of Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman provide not only an unmatched on-screen chemistry, but also three perfectly created characterisations, the like of which are rarely seen in today's cinema. This film has my personal recommendation of being the best piece of cinema that I know of. I have not seen anything that matches it in terms of intensity or emotion - and believe me, I've looked. I found myself caring for the characters involved, an unique experience in itself. This is not the type of film for a night in with your mates, but nevertheless, it is an unforgettable piece of cinematic history.
Leon is one of the most emotionally intense movies ever made. French
director Luc Besson uses everything: actors, music, camera angles,
to create an unique experience - "It's not realism, it's not naturalism -
it's heightened reality" as Gary Oldman very well put it.
In "The making of The Professional" Besson says "If I imagine somebody in the street try to knock on my daughter, I kill the guy, in five seconds. I kill him, and I think "It's in me, I'm a beast!" On this part we can't forget that a part of us, the genetic things inside are much, much older than The Ten Commandments". He certainly uses visceral scenes to create very strong emotion in the movie - the blood running from Mathilda's nose or Stansfield's unforgettable "EVERYONE!" are just a couple of examples. The music and the sound are excellent and are used in a masterly fashion - you can hear Fatman's heart beating desperately or a low claustrophobic sound when Stansfield turns to look at Mathilda's father.
However Leon does not work only on this primary level, it also has an intelligent story. It may seem to be almost a fairy-tale, but don't be fooled - just like his character Besson is serious. This movie has a message: without love we are dead, even if we don't see it. Only true love give meaning to our lives: "everything else reminds me a big yogurt: warm and rancid" as Mathilda says in the original script, which is available on the net under the name Leon Version 1. Is this true in "real life"? I don't know but this movie can make you wonder.
Then of course there's the sensuality. It's hypocritical to deny it, the camera interacts with Mathilda in a mesmerising fashion. It's not sick and it's not degrading: it's art, subtle and beautiful.
Leon is not perfect but it has so many great moments that all its flaws can be forgiven. It's a movie that really should not be missed, unless you are concerned with its amorality. And don't be - Leon is less violent than many action movies and the unusual relationship between the main characters is handled mostly with genuine feeling and tact.
I have long thought that owning films on DVD or video is a waste of
you watch them once and after that they are left to fester at the back of
cupboard. Occasionally I make an exception - some films simply cannot be
fully appreciated on just one viewing. Every time I watch Leon is as
gripping and enjoyable as the first. Sad, funny, violent, incredibly
touching - few films manage to tick all the boxes and even fewer are about
It obviously helps when your leading man has as much screen presence as Jean Reno. Thin and wiry with toilet brush hair and a face like a bag of spanners, he is hardly your typical gun-toting action hero, but he has an innocence and compassion that makes you fall for him instantly. Leon's life is as simple as a small child's: TV, lashings of milk and the odd gangland assassination. He cannot read, he doesn't sleep, he hasn't the trappings of family or wealth (the fees for his hits are habitually trousered by his `benefactor': sleazy small-time Italian gangster Tony (Danny Aiello)) - In short, he lives like a robot. And then he meets Mathilda.
Normally I can't stand Hollywood kids. They are all doey-eyed, bouffant-haired brats who can cry on cue and are always ready with a cutesy, smart-alec comment that will cause their adult co-stars to tinkle with laughter or tousle their hair playfully. Often they are kidnapped and huge ransoms demanded while their parents go demented with worry. I for one am usually rooting for the kidnappers.
Natalie Portman's Mathilda is the antithesis of these namby-pamby Dawson's Creek actors-in-waiting. For starters, she has something justifiable to gripe about, in that her entire family has just been slaughtered by Gary Oldman and his gang of crooked DEA officers. This is a bit of a blow, to say the least, but Mathilda takes it all in her stride and teams up with Leon in a bid for revenge. So begins one of the stranger relationships in silver screen history, but one of the most memorable.
On the face of it, a love story between a twelve year old girl and a hairy French hitman would raise a few eyebrows among more conservative movie-goers, but director Luc Besson handles it so beautifully, it seems like the most natural thing on earth. They are united in being totally alone in the world - indeed, the scene where Mathilda walks quietly down the corridor past the carnage in her apartment and knocks on Leon's door, imploring him in a tearful whisper to let her in is as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking. Leon is wary at first, but she soon wins him round and starts to gently bring him out of the shell.
Portman is truly astonishing - one can almost forgive her for being a part of the appalling Star Wars prequels on the strength of this one performance. The iconic image of this tiny, grubby little girl clutching Leon's beloved plant and trotting to keep up with her lanky hero's giant strides is one that will live long in the memory.
Aiello and Oldman (at his sadistic, malevolent best) provide predictably excellent support, there is a wonderfully suspenseful yet satisfying ending - heck, there's even a decent Sting song playing over the credits - for this (if nothing else) it would be remiss of me to give Leon anything other than top marks.
luc besson will never top this movie. This is his benchmark, his classical
composition. Look at the precise, intricate scenes. It's a symphony in
cinema. Straight off, it's action. Intelligently shot, and scripted. It
makes everything that follows hard to live upto. But it does so easily.
stylish without being showy, it's deep without being sentimental. And it's
just hugely enjoyable.
Seeing the friendship between newly orphaned mathilda and skilled assasin
leon bloom, is tenderly done. At risk of slipping into a sappy bond,
keeps it easy on the emotions, without coming off as shallow.
The actors are all spot on, most notably the debut from a young natalie portman as mathilda. Showing an angry, sad, pent up, in love girl is no simple task but she breezes through it, touching all the right notes. And jean reno as the title character, is minimal but very effecting. Hard to understand, but easy to relate too. But gary oldman steals it, with his glorious overacting. He's as scary as he is determind. His line delivery is almost perfect. And his fate is very fitting. If only they made more intelligent action movies, then they could contend with this film. But as it stands right now, leon is one of the best action dramas ever made.
An interview with Anne Parillaud, in the Evening Standard, 24.8.90, it was
said that the message of Nikita is not one of violence but the idea is
people who are full of despair and missing love are not
This idea continues in Léon. Léon was Besson's first foray into international film production. The similarities, or parallels, between Nikita and Léon are undoubted. Both the central protagonists attempt to come to terms with their dysfunctionality, to society, against a background of violence, which they both continue to act upon as the agent of someone else. There is no clean difference (we may also include Le Dernier Combat for comparison.) The only difference is gender.
I always found that until obtaining the "Version Integral" there was a character hole in the plot. The original cut released for US audiences was felt, by Besson, had an "offending" scene cut which ruined later scenes. The American test audiences hated it, seeing it as perverse and paedophiliac. The film was still panned by US critics as quasi-child pornography on general release. What it to be understood about this film, and this is what infuriated Besson, is that the film is about pure love. Not sex, which is all the Americans, could see.
And so we have ascertained that the characters in Besson's films are, simply, great. Then there is the action which is all the grace and style of Nikita. Typical of Besson's style with fast action-shooting and violent characterisation. This has to be one of Jean Reno's and by far Natalie Portman's best screen performance. To me, Gary Oldman plays his part to the tee, said by some magazines to be the best screen bad guy - it is one of his best performances.
Stylisation and excess are hallmarks of Besson's work. Characters are larger than life. Décors are in excess of realism. Besson's characters lack psychological depth. "The sumptuous and the ornate cohabit with the violent or the vulgar." Besson's use of excess is also extremely playful mixing violence with humour. Besson's work appeals to the tastes of popular culture and may not please that of the elite - arguably a reason for the rejection of his work by many intellectual film journals.
I have yet to hear of a person putting a bad word against this film. There is nothing I can personally fault so I give this film 10/10, a score only two other somewhat different films hold in my IMDb list of 345 films - "The Wizard of Oz" and "La Cité des Enfants perdu". If you like French Cinema or consider yourself a cinephile you must see the latter.
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