Léon: The Professional
I want you to watch this movie and love it. I won't ask you twice. Let that be a fair warning.
(OK, that was my lame impersonation of Leon. Haha.)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Main Cast: Jean Reno as Leon, Natalie Portman as Mathilda and Gary Oldman as Stansfield.
My Final Rating: 10/10
"All Movie Genres rolled-into-one"
That's how I will describe LEON: The Professional. It's like the lyrics of that song: "It's 32 Flavors and then some."
How can a story that features a mob assassin, a girl who wants to train to become one and a nasty DEA officer be called a movie that successfully merged a multitude of film genres? Well, the answer's easy--- because it did! Borrowing from imdb.com, the plot goes something like this: Léon, a highly trained assassin, reluctantly takes care of Mathilda, his 12-year old neighbor whose parents were killed, and teaches her his trade.
You have loads of action, some hint of comedy, a little bit of drama and suspense that provided so much tension you can cut it with a knife. Oh, and it also featured some kind of cute (read: inappropriate) romance between pre-pubescent Mathilda and the assassin Léon. The movie was fun while it lasted and it left me feeling satisfied for watching it.
Now, I'm really easy to please, but I can easily separate the bad movies from the good ones. This is one of the good ones, in my opinion. Heck, it bagged the 35th spot in the imdb Top 250, and looking at the other movies in that list, it MUST be good to be ranked that high.
The Film's Soundtrack and Why it Deserves its Own Section
There were some notable songs that were used in this movie which includes, Björk's "Venus As A Boy" and Sting's "Shape Of My Heart". I think each of these songs were perfectly used. The Björk song in particular was fun to listen to as it plays in the background of the Léon-Mathilda montage. And I can't say enough how I loved they used "Shape of My Heart" in one of the movie's most memorable scenes (I'm not gonna tell you which.)
Three Very Strong (and severely underrated) Performances
Some movies need an extended cast for it to work. Léon: The Professional only needed three, and anything beyond that number would have seriously ruined it. I am still wishing that someday, the three of them can work together on a movie again: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman. They're just so fun and amazing to watch. Yeah, "fun and amazing" is not the most colorful descriptive phrase ever, but that was what I thought about their performances, so there.
LEON, the assassin
Jean Reno was definitely a revelation in this film. The mere fact that he can shift from dangerous assassin to a soft-hearted caretaker of an orphaned girl, is a remarkable feat in itself. I especially loved his interactions with the young Natalie Portman, who surprisingly carried her own (more on this later.) Mr. Reno is strangely captivating; one look at him and you'll immediately see that he means business, that he's no ordinary gunman--- he was a lean mean killing machine. His daily routines which included exercise, taking care of his plants and drinking the beverage of assassins worldwide (non-fat milk) were the only things that is keeping him human. Those and the fact that he cares enough for the young woman he took under his wing.
You can almost feel that Jean Reno attempted to break the fourth wall here. Just by watching the sweet montage of the two unusual "best pals" or forbidden "lovers" as Mathilda would put it and the serious training the mentor gave to his student almost made me feel like it was a veteran actor giving a neophyte actress some lessons in surviving in the film business. Or maybe I was just overthinking, who knows? Anyway, the movie's final moments were made even more special because you've seen all of Léon's actions that led to the long and intese finale. I hope you will also feel the way I feel when this movie ended. I've always respected Jean Reno as an actor, despite everyone else thinking that he can't play any part other than the "dangerous character". This movie is proof that he's not just a one-trick pony and he deserves everyone else's respect.
MATHILDA, the assassin's protegé
Allow me to be shallow for a moment: I HEART Natalie Portman and she was really cute in this movie! * faints * (hehehe) It is a known fact that this movie jump-started Natalie Portman's career. Miss Portman, who I remember was 12 or 13 years old (movie trivia gurus, help me here) when she starred as Mathilda in this movie, carried her own weight despite being surrounded by veteran actors Jean Reno and Gary Oldman. There were moments in this movie that make you think how old Portman really was when the movie was filmed. I actually thought she deserved an Oscar nomination at least and I'm so enraged when I learned she didn't get one. Yes, when you become a fan of Natalie Portman, you leave no space for rational thought. Of course she didn't get nominated, this was an action flick, she was young, she was a relative unknown at that time. Unless you're Halle Berry or that French lady who starred in La Vie En Rose, you have no chance in hell to get an Oscar nomination. In other news, Anne Hathaway, a relatively young and amateur actress considering her competition, was nominated just recently for her role in a relatively unknown movie--- so going back to Léon, why didn't they give Natalie a nomination?
You can definitely see the potential in Natalie Portman, especially when she has these long-winded monologues in the movie. She also did great when there are subtle moments that needed restraint. The director must have had an easy job giving instructions to Natalie Portman, because judging by the rawness and the beautiful simplicity of her acting in every scene, I think she nailed all of them in one take! That was just a guess on my part but Natalie did gave Mathilda a deep personality and she didn't over-act. As much as I'm a fan of Dakota Fanning, I'm urging her to take lessons from Natalie Portman. It also featured Miss Portman's developing tear ducts, I've never cheered for someone crying before but you just have to give that to her because she cries like a pro. At a young age, she can definitely give any other actresses a run for their money. I don't want the rest of this review to become all about Natalie Portman, so
I'll stop right here.
STANSFIELD, the crooked cop
If you have a dictionary around and looked for the meaning of tour-de-force, I suggest you write a letter to the publisher and ask them to put Gary Oldman's picture under the word's definition because in all honesty, this was a tour-de-force performance indeed. I have a lot to say about Mr. Oldman here, and for some reason it doesn't just involve the word villain. Sure he played the role of Stansfield, the film's always-angry antagonist, but in this movie he was also the designated show-stopper, and despite the intensity called upon this role, in my opinion he never went over-the-top. It was "just right" for the Stansfield character, in fact, I even wanted more scenes which involved this guy. I never had enough! (laughs)
Stansfield has got to be the meatiest, most complex villain role I've seen in years, and I've watched A LOT of movies! When I watch other movies, I will always compare that particular film's villain to Gary Oldman in Léon and usually it doesn't hold a candle let alone beat Oldman's performance. The only one in recent years that I can equate to Oldman's work as Stansfield is the Academy award-winning performance of Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. I believe that Gary Oldman is a wonderful, wonderful actor. I've seen him play so many roles, including some which failed to make use of his acting chops *cough* Harry Potter *cough*, but I digress. In this movie, you will have the chance to see the NO-HOLDS-BARRED Gary Oldman, I think the guy needs Ritalin just to suppress the intensity. He managed to burn through the screen with each Stanfield moment. Aaarrrrggghhh, I can't pick one scene where he didn't impress me. The movie made me like Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, but even better, it made me a fan of Gary Oldman.
What's a good movie without a good director, eh?
Luc Besson, Who you probably know as the director of such great movies like The Fifth Element and La Femme Nikita, was the director of this fantastic movie.
His latest completed project was writing the screenplay for the movie Taken which was pretty wonderful also. He really did a great job in directing Leon. Every scene was well-crafted and had that indescribable impact. For me, this was his masterpiece. Mr. Besson who has a fondness for Jean Reno, has created many other movies afterwards and I'm anxiously waiting for the next movie that he would cook up for us. I'm not expecting him to make a movie more excellent than LEON, but I'm hopeful he can make something as good as this movie. * crosses fingers *
I will close this review with a quote from Norman Parkinson: "The camera can be the most deadly weapon since the assassin's bullet. Or it can be the lotion of the heart." (Pun not intended.)