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By Patrick Samuel • December 30th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Columbia Pictures

Original release: September 14th, 1994
Running time: 110 minutes

Country of origin: France
Original language: English

Writer and director: Luc Besson

Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello


When we think of assassins, we normally think of killers of a certain age, stature and sex. Our minds cast back to the likes of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray and Mark David Chapman – the men responsible for the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr and John Lennon.

Other assassins however might have had military experience or been in law enforcement roles before and are hired for assignments. Whatever the individual cases may be, and for whatever reason the assassinations might be carried for – political, financial or personal reasons – we normally assume the assassin to be over a certain age and predominantly male, which are two reasons why this 1994 Luc Besson thriller stands out.

Léon (Jean Reno) is an assassin, though he prefers to call himself a “cleaner”. He moves with deadly precision, like a panther through the night; silent and fast. 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.

Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is a 12-year-old girl who lives in his building, just down the hall from him. Her life is not simple at all – it’s tragic. Her father stores drugs in their apartment for a dirty DEA agent, Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), he also keeps a little for himself. There’s nothing kind to say about her mother and sister – the only thing holding her together is her little brother.


When Stansfield and his men raid their apartment while she’s out getting groceries, the entire family – minus Mathilda – are massacred. In a nail-biting scene we see her coming up the stairs with her shopping. Instead of going to her apartment, she walks past the men, sensing something terrible has happened in there. The only place she can go without arising suspicion is to her neighbour’s – Léon.

Reluctantly he takes her in, saving her life in the process, but now he has another problem on his hands. When Mathilda learns what Léon does for a living, instead of being afraid or concerned, she sees a way to get revenge on the men who killed her baby brother. Realising she doesn’t have any money to hire him to “clean” Stansfield and his men; she tries to strike a deal with him. She’ll work for him if he does the job, but later on, she changes her mind – she wants to do it herself, if he teaches her.

We might wonder why Leon agrees to teach the child how to be a professional killer, but despite his line of work and being an adult, there’s something innocent and child-like about him. LéonHe agrees to her deal if she’ll teach him to read, something he’s gone through life so far without knowing how to do. Their agreement is mutually beneficial and they don’t really have anything to lose.

The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use, because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.

While Léon teachers her how to track her prey, Mathilda begins to explore her feelings for him as her sexuality comes of age. This is in contrast to his 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.

Gradually she becomes more confident and eager to face Stansfield. She gets her chance after disguising herself as a delivery person and making her way to the DEA office.

You killed my brother.

I’m sorry. And you want to join him?

Mathilda: No.

It’s always the same thing. It’s when you start to become really afraid of death that you learn to appreciate life. Do you like life, sweetheart?


That’s good, because I take no pleasure in taking life if it’s from a person who doesn’t care about it.

However, Mathilda’s unable to get the job done as she thought she would and now LéonStansfield has set his sights on both her and Léon, leading to a final showdown.

Despite her young age, Mathilda’s already been through so much in her life but the one thing she’s not ready to face is being truly alone. With Léon passing on so much of his knowledge and experience we wonder what’s in store for her once the film ends, but as we see her finally turning up for school, maybe she’s really taken some of his words to heart and will be ok after all. Maybe she doesn’t really have it in her to be the next Léon or other famous assassins we read about in the papers.

There’s a lot of action and the cinematography is superb throughout, but what really holds our attention is how magnificently Natalie Portman handled the role. The script is beautifully written and sensitive enough to have us rooting for her every step of the way, though we know that if she kills Stansfield herself, something inside of her – that little lingering piece of childhood – will forever be lost.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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