on July 16, 2004
I don't usually like to watch movies about hit men or cops and robbers. I remember I got interested in this movie because of two things: Luc Besson's movie the Fifth Element, which was so wildly different and fascinating that I wanted to see what else this French director had done; and secondly, seeing Natalie Portman for the first time in the Star Wars: Phantom Menace movie.
Behind all of the dense make up and bad script and horribly non-existent directing from George Lucas in Phantom Menace, I sensed in Natalie Portman one heck of a terrific young actress struggling to come up with a meaningful performance. In "Leon - The Professional", working with a superb director, her acting talent is on full display.
When one thinks of modern day child actors, Anna Paquin comes to mind, in "The Piano", because she aced out some terrific adult actresses in 1993 to win the Oscar. Well, Natalie Portman, at age 12, had Anna Paquin beat by a mile in this movie, since her character takes up about half of the movie. If not for the truly unusual and off-beat story line of this movie, Portman would have gotten a lot more attention for her role in this movie, I think.
If you just focus on Portman's facial expressions and the way she carries herself in this movie, she goes through an amazing acting range in this movie, from hurt, terrified, bored, stuck up, cool and calculating, manipulative, sweet, child-like, and pubescent sexual allure.
As mentioned by other reviewers, the uncut version restores scenes that basically give a harder edge to Natalie Portman's character. The additional scenes of her assassin training with Leon and her efforts to attract and get closer to Leon definitely put her character in a harsher light. I remember from my first viewing of the cut U.S. version that Mathilda came across as a much more sweet and innocent child. The uncut version shows her more to be a hardened child of the mean streets of New York. Given the usual Hollywood propensities, it's not that surprising that these scenes got cut for the U.S. release. The uncut version does show the fullest acting range of Natalie Portman, even if they make her character less sympathetic.
Basically, the movie skates close to, but avoids the pedophilia controversies of the "Lolita" movies by having the character of Leon adhere to a strict code of ethics that firmly blocks all of Mathilda's advances. Even at the end, when he kisses her good-by and says that he loves her, it is clearly in the vein of being her protector and a big brother/father surrogate figure.
All in all, this was a great movie. Jean Reno was just so hauntingly sad as the loner-assassin Leon. Gary Oldman was definitely over the top in his portrayal of the crazed DEA agent - you almost expected his Dracula fangs to come out and his eyes to glow red when he popped those pills into his mouth.
So all of you Natalie Portman fans, this movie is a definite must-see. All of you Phantom Menace/Attack of the Clones haters who think that Natalie Portman can't act, you've got to see this movie to understand that no, Natalie Portman is a terrific actress. It's just really, really tough to play opposite total stiffs like Hayden Christiansen and Jake Lloyd, working with an idiot director like George Lucas.
LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL  [20th Anniversary Limited Edition SteelBook] [Blu-ray] [UK Release] No Women! No Kids! That's The Rule!
The first English language thriller 'LÉON' from Luc Besson, the director of 'NIKITA.' Gary Oldman plays Norman Stansfield, a psychotic government official whose actions provide the catalyst for murder on the New York streets. When a young girl named Mathilda [Natalie Portman] witnesses her family being gunned down by Gary Oldman's team of corrupt cops, she teams up with lone hit man Leone "Léon" Montana [Jean Reno] to take revenge. Natalie Portman made her film debut with this film.
FILM FACT: Awards and Nominations: 1995 Czech Lion: Won: Best Foreign Language Film. Golden Reel Award: Won: Best Sound Editing for a Foreign Feature. 1995 César Awards: Nominated: Best Film, Best Actor for Jean Reno. Nominated: Best Director for Luc Besson. Nominated: Best Music for Éric Serra. Nominated: Best Cinematography for Thierry Arbogast. Nominated: Best Editing for Sylvie Landra. Nominated: Best Sound. Norman Stansfield [Gary Oldman] has since been named by several publications as one of cinema's greatest villains.
Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Keith A. Glascoe, Randolph Scott, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Elizabeth Regen, Carl J. Matusovich, Frank Senger, Lucius Wyatt Cherokee, Eric Challier, Luc Bernard, Maïwenn, Jessie Keosian, George Martin, Abdul Hassan Sharif, Stuart Rudin, Kent Broadhurst, Tommy Hollis, Peter Linari, Johnny Limo, Danny Peled, Seth Jerome Walker, Michael Mundra, Alex Dezen, Betty Miller, Geoffrey Bateman, Arsène Jiroyan, Peter Vizard, Joseph Malerba, Robert LaSardo, Steve Gonnelo, William James Stiggers Jr., Anthony Ragland, Sonny Zito, Rocky Hernandez, Randy Pearlstein, Trevor Walace, Keith S. Bullock, Jeff McBride, Peter Justinius, Thomas Delehanty, Ed Ventresca, Wallace Wong, Cary Wong, Adam Busch, Mario Todisco, Jernard Burks, Matt De Matt, Tony Sauraye, Thierry Maurio, James Fahrner, Daniel Schenmetzler, Jean-Hugues Anglade (long version) (uncredited), Hélène Cardona (uncredited), Alyssia Dujmovich (uncredited) and Michael Wehrhahn (uncredited)
Director: Luc Besson
Producers: Bernard Grenet, Claude Besson, John Garland, Luc Besson and Patrice Ledoux
Screenplay: Luc Besson
Composer: Éric Serra
Cinematography: Thierry Arbogast
Video Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English: 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio
Subtitles: English SDH
Running Time: 110 minutes and 106 minutes
Region: Region B/2
Number of discs: 1
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: French auteur director Luc Besson may have gained international acclaim for 'La Femme Nikita,' cleaned house at the box office with his sci-fi smash 'The Fifth Element,' and had a hand in making Jason Statham into an action leading man with 'The Transporter,' but for me his pièce de résistance will always be 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL.' Brutal, beautiful, and controversial, the film isn't just Luc Besson at his best and it's cinema at its finest.
In New York City's underworld, Leone "Léon" Montana [Jean Reno] is a "cleaner," a professional hit-man for a mobster named Tony [Danny Aiello]. Leone "Léon" Montana is the best assassin in the city, and routine, order, and simplicity have moulded his way of living. Of course, being an efficient killing machine does come with one major drawback and he's not much of a "people person." Aside from Tony and his short-lived clients, Léon is someone who has very little human contact. When his best friend is his houseplant, it goes without saying that social skills just aren't his forte.
Leone "Léon" Montana's simplistic lifestyle unexpectedly takes a complicated turn when a drug deal in the next door apartment goes sour. After the family is massacred by a psychotic lunatic Norman Stansfield [Gary Oldman], the only one left is twelve-year-old Mathilda [Natalie Portman]. In a moment of kindness, Léon offers sanctuary to the young girl, and unwittingly invites in a whole heap of trouble in the process. Not only does Mathilda uncover what Leone "Léon" Montana really does for a living, she wants to become his student so she can have her revenge. As Mathilda's pain and persistence begins to wear down Leone "Léon" Montana's defences, it isn't long before she's welcomed under his wing and into his heart. My favourite scene is when Leone "Léon" Montana's and Mathilda play charades, especially dressed up as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin is guaranteed to make you laugh. That scene also perfectly sums up their unorthodox relationship.
Although 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL' does share a few similarities with 'NKITA' (was even inspired by Jean Reno's "cleaner" character in 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL') and Luc Besson crafts a tale that is entirely in a class by itself. The cinematography is simply brilliant, as the violent opening sequence locks in the electrifying tone for the picture. From then on, every action-packed hit is dripping with intensity, and the quieter moments in between are dreamlike and surreal. Virtually every scene is staged with such elegance and grace that it's hard to not be completely transfixed by this film.
Luc Besson doesn't just captivate his audiences with soothing visuals; he also stirs the pot to make them restless in their seats. The backbone of the plot already pushes the morality envelope, as a pre-teen is being trained to kill in cold blood. But Luc Besson goes one step further, placing the relationship between Leone "Léon" Montana and Mathilda in an area completely clouded in grey and essentially creating one of the most unconventional love stories ever told. There are times where their screen time together is delightfully charming, and other instances where it starts going down a more disturbing path. While this may have crossed the line for some viewers, the intent was to create tension and ruffle a few feathers, and in that regard Luc Besson hits a home run.
There is also a great deal of depth provided by its three unforgettable performances. Jean Reno is really at the top of his game here, juggling the two very distinct personalities of his character with dexterous precision. In "serious" mode Leone "Léon" Montana is experienced and confident, but when he's outside of his comfort zone he morphs into a shy and timid creature. Then there's Gary Oldman as the nut job villain Norman Stansfield. While he doesn't totally steal the show, which is good since this is supposed to be Leone "Léon" Montana and Mathilda's story anyways, he fully embraces his despicable role, and his portrayal is so unnerving that the rattled expressions on the actors playing his own goon squad just had to be genuine. Last and certainly not least is Natalie Portman, who gives such an endearing performance in her feature film debut that it's utterly mind-blowing.
If you haven't already guessed it, 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL' is one of my all-time favourite films and the reason for this is because it is a very intelligent character driven genre type thriller and full of well-choreographed action, done in a very thoughtful intelligent way. Between Luc Besson's unique vision and the impeccable performances of the cast, this is a powerful film where style meets substance in perfect harmony.
Overall, 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL' is a very clever action film with a historic duo. The three important characters of Léon, Matilda and Norman Stansfield [Gary Oldman] all bring the goods and rock the screen. It's not for everyone with its dark and twisted themes but it's a brilliant film for mature audiences. It might be a bit cliché ridden nowadays with the opening that just has to be the hero killing a bunch of guys to show that he's not to be trifled with but it all works. Nothing feels stale and so overall a real tour-de-force action thriller, that will grip you from beginning to the end credits, plus it is also a very clever action film, but it's the 1990s type of action film which means it's almost unescapable of being a guilty pleasure. It does manage to avoid that but it isn't a masterpiece it is just really good and totally action packed film to set your pulses racing.
Blu-ray Video Quality ' The 1080p high-definition transfer has been struck from the same master Optimum Home Entertainment/STUDIOCANAL accessed in 2009 for their standard Blu-ray release of 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL.' Unsurprisingly, its basic characteristics are identical to those of the high-definition transfer from the standard Blu-ray release. Generally speaking, most close-ups look pleasing, while the panoramic shots boast good clarity. Traces of light contrast boosting and sharpening, however, are easy to spot throughout the entire film. During close-ups it is also easy to see that some of the fine grain is mixed with light noise. Still, the film still has a pleasing organic look. Colour reproduction is satisfactory, but it is obvious that saturation can be better. Image stability is good. Lastly, a few tiny flecks still pop up here and there. All in all, this is a good presentation of Leon, but it would have been nice to see a brand new transfer for the film's 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray Region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality ' There are two standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio. For the record, STUDIOCANAL have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they split the image frame and the black bar below it. The 5.1 track is very good. It has an excellent range of nuanced dynamics and clarity is outstanding. The elaborate action sequences sound particularity good, but Eric Serra's score also makes an impression. The dialogue is very crisp, free of background hiss, stable, and easy to follow. Also, there are no pop ups, audio dropouts, or distortions to report in this review.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras: There is a disappointingly meagre selection of supplements on this release. Sure, we get both the Director's Cut and Theatrical Version, but apart from that, only brief interviews with Jean Reno and composer Eric Serra are included.
Directors Cut  [2.35:1] [110 minutes]
Theatrical Version  [2.35:1] [106 minutes]
Special Feature: Interview with Jean Reno [1080p] [6:45] In this new video interview, actor Jean Reno recalls his work with young Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman and the two became big friends after the film was completed, and discusses the style and tone of the film.
Special Feature: Interview with Eric Serra [1080p] [9:40] In this new video interview, acclaimed composer Eric Serra recalls his first encounter with Luc Besson and how the soundtrack for Leon came to exist. Mr. Serra also discusses the specific music themes that were used during key sequences.
Finally, move over Beethoven and Mozart, French filmmaker Luc Besson has conducted his own symphonic masterpiece with 'LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL.' Between its slick writing, melodic direction, and trio of scene-searing performances, it's the type of film that just seems to hit all of the right notes. Although this 20th Anniversary Limited Edition SteelBook Blu-ray is a bit lacking in extra features, fans can now enjoy either version of the film via seamless branching. Add in excellent video and one of the best audio presentations for a catalogue title to date, and this Blu-ray disc is well worth owning. What is also very exquisite about this particular Blu-ray SteelBook is the stunning design inside and out and has now gone proud of place in my ever expanding SteelBook Blu-ray Collection, as this is now my ultimate version. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller ' Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom
on January 11, 2002
The opening shots of this movie are a bird's eye view flying over New York city and flying into a quaint, locally owned restaurant in the heart of Little Italy. Therein two men are talking business, and it is not of the establishment in which they are conversing. A man's life is being discussed, and in the most chilling ways possible. The mysterious gentlemen accepting the hit is Leon (Sean Reno), and as he hides behind a pair of reflective sunglasses and a foreign accent, he becomes demonized as the viewer realizes he is a cold-blooded killer, a "professional" if you will.
And yet he stops by the store on the way to his slightly dilapidated apartment building for two quarts of milk, and then proceeds to iron his clothes, water his plant, and shower while wearing a face of torn emotion. The demon killer shows a human side, and the viewer is left puzzled. Even more so is the viewer when this very hitman saves the life of a young girl named Mathilda (young Natalie Portman) from corrupt DEA officers, headed by Gary Oldman, after they massacre her family.
The majority of the film is concerned with the development of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda, and Luc Besson could not have done a finer job. The circumstances are awkward at first for both Mathilda and Leon, and yet as time progresses a unique bond begins to form itself between the two. Sean Reno as Leon is brilliant. His accent (said to be Italian, but it sounds awfully French to me), rugged visage, and cold-yet-expressive eyes convey a man with many secrets. And for all his calm demeanor, he obviously struggles with himself. Natalie Portman shows herself in her debut as not just another child actor, but someone who, in her own right, displays a natural acting competancy that few adult actors can achieve. As young Mathilda she walks a razor's edge between projecting herself as a scared little girl that has seen and felt too much pain, and a mature young woman with emotions and understanding belying her age.
While violence has become something of a widespread staple in the modern action movie, rarely have there been such powerfully cinematic displays of the consequences. Luc Besson does not insinuate that he who has the gun is God, but rather that whoever does hold's a god's responsibility. Almost every significant character in this film that sees violence as an answer see that it only brings pain and more questions. As fire attracts a moth, so do the worlds of these men bring suffering even as they seek to overcome it. Additionally, the growing relationship between Leon and Mathilda set off warnings to the prudish viewer of impending sexual relations.
One minute this movie incites light-hearted laughter. The next it could be demanding your ire, only to bring tears afterwards. The adrenaline joy-ride this movie provides is only topped its roller-coaster of emotions. The cinematography, while not ground-breaking, is effective in conveying the mood in key scenes. A brilliant and disturbing portrayal of DEA officer Stansfield by Gary Oldman create a true villian worthy of cinematic infamy for years to come. Indeed, this movie is much more than the sum of its components, and while the squeamish and easily offended may find themselves tempted to turn this film off early on, those that sit through their discomfort will find not-so-typical tale of two outcasts suffering with little for solace but each other.
on November 23, 2001
At the dawn of the now ever popular European/Hollywood violent anti-hero film noir, The professional stood out for both arthouse and blockbuster budget film goers.
Luc Besson, of The Big Blue and Fifth Element fame made a perfect statement with his use of grim settings and rough film stock. His exceptional eye, which manages to capture emotion and transcend the barrier between viewer and character is enough to leave the viewer with the feeling of lost at the hands of an emotional roller coaster.
Casting has always been a key element in any film, and in this case incredibly well cast. Jean Reno, although the anti-hero endears himself to anyone with his silent sad eyes where it is obvious he has longed for company and friendship, which his profession does not allow. Although "Leon" (Jean Reno) is a professional killer with only select targets (no women, no kids) there is no need for a redemption, but a redemption of dynamic proportions amidst a climax of hailing bullets idifies his character. Gary Oldman is simply stunning, as always, with the right mixture of saddism and chaotic mental unbalance which sets the tone and allocates the status of the most evil human nature has to offer personified even in that of a minor glace (in the direction of the camera). Natalie Portman, although EXTREMELY young in this film, has the depth and emotion of any veteran female actor and I personally consider this to be one of her most finest performances.
The premise is simple, the storyline honest although dark and torturous, but if there to be a moral it would have to involve that of trust, honour and the age old book by the cover saying which stand out. I wouldn't want to go to deep into the storyline, as there are twists to the plot, and although some of these twists come to light early in the film, they are still relevent and it may be considered a spoiler for me to elaborate.
When I went to the cinema to see this film in 1994, it had an impact on me both mentally and physically. The Professional is in the genre that Quentin Tarantino went on to make a house hold name for himself with, although The Professional would be considered a more intelligent and sopisticated cinematic version. After watching the artful Hong Kong cinema of the 70's and 80's, directors such as John Woo having been achiving this high standard of 'gunplay anti-hero emotionally charged honour bound storyline' in films, it's plain to see that the genre is simply based on the folly of human nature, you can never refute your emotions, and they will more than likely get in your way before the final curtain. I can honestly say there is appeal for women in this film, as it is emotionally charged and at times extremely sensitive which balances out any on screen violence.
If you liked: Reservoir Dogs, City On Fire, The Killer, The Godfather series. You will like this film.