Léon, The Professional

Léon, The Professional

Written and directed by Luc Besson (Nikita, The 5th Element, The Big Blue), Léon was released in 1994 but more than 15 years later, its one of those rare films which never seems outdated. The rawness and vulnerability of its characters ring true in a time more than ever we’re obsessed with guns, glamour, sex and violence. Léon still makes us feel as uncomfortable yet enthralled at watching a 12 year old at the heart of its chaos.

Léon, is a hitman, who prefers to call himself as a “cleaner”. He moves with deadly precision, like a panther through the night; silent, swift and deadly. Despite the nature of his job, Léon has a simple life and enjoys the little things such as caring for his houseplant and watching Gene Kelly musicals at the cinema. His life is about to get a little bit complicated though when he encounters Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12 year old girl who lives with her family further down the hallway from him.

Mathilda enjoys smoking cigarettes and prefers to stay out of her family’s way. Returning from a trip to the grocery shop, she notices something is not quite right and continues walking towards Léon’s apartment instead of her own. Her family, including her baby brother, have all been gunned down by corrupt DEA agents who suspected her father of stealing the cocaine he was supposed to be hiding for them.

Léon takes in the distraught girl and although she despised her mother and father, she wants revenge for the life of her brother. Finding out that Léon is a hired hitman she offers him a job in return for doing chores around his apartment. When he refuses, she then asks him to teach her to “clean”. Forming an unlikely duo, Léon reluctantly proceeds to teach Mathilda the tricks of the trade as she helps him to overcome his illiteracy.

The villain in this piece is Stansfield (Gary Oldman), the vile, sadistic and corrupt DEA agent who ordered the hit on Mathilda’s family, so it comes as no surprise that she has set her sights on “cleaning” him herself. But while Léon teachers her how to track her prey, Mathilda begins to explore her feelings for him as her sexuality comes of age too. The bubbling sexual tension the pre-teen femme fatale creates only balances well because in contrast to Léon’s innocence, social awkwardness and ambivalence towards her feelings. While her adulthood emerges, his retreats, but he also takes care of her; ensuring that she will quit smoking, go to school and put down some roots.

Léon, despite its controversial themes, is compelling and bittersweet. Natalie Portman was 11 years old when she played the role of Mathilda, but does it with such conviction that the movie boils with tension that could blow at any minute. Léon, even though he is a professional killer, lacks certain social abilities and education but as a friend and employee, he is loyal and trusting. It becomes debatable who is really in control and who is leading who.

Static Mass Rating: 5/5

This Blu-ray edition has superb colour and clarity and includes the Directors Cut with 25 minutes of additional scenes:
- Mathilda tells Léon she is 18 years old.
- Mathilda threatens to shoot herself if Léon doesn’t teach her how to clean
- Léon takes Mathilda to meet Tony.
- Léon and Mathilda at a drug dealer’s home, and Mathilda setting a fire.
- Mathilda training.
- Matilda gets drunk at a restaurant with Léon when they celebrate their first hit.
- Léon tells Matilda why he left Italy and came to New York at the age of 19.
- Mathilda asks Léon to be her lover.
- Mathilda and Léon sleep next to each other in a bed.

Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by Patrice Ledoux
Written by Luc Besson
Starring Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman and Danny Aiello
Music by Éric Serra
Cinematography Thierry Arbogast
Editing by Sylvie Landra
Distributed by Columbia Pictures and Gaumont Film Company

Léon was released on Blu-ray by Optimum Home Entertainment on September 14th 2009.

- Director’s And Theatrical Cuts
- Leon – 10 Year Retrospective Featurette
- Jean Reno: The Road To Leon – Featurette
- Natalie Portman: Starting Young – Featurette

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.