Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello
For Natalie Portman’s first film…that’s pretty damn good. Léon: The Professional is a truly unique story of the friendship between an expert hitman and a young girl. For only being 12 years old Portman shines as the star of the film, with top notch performances from Reno and Oldman as well, of course. Although a sort of conservative film in the aspect that there are only three main characters we are dealing with, not much variety in sets, not a ton of action or other filler scenes, Léon is brilliant. It’s the simplicity of the movie that really makes it stand out, as this leaves more time for the actors to do what they do best.
Plot: A professional hitman, Léon (Reno), takes in a girl, Mathilda (Portman), after her family is brutally killed by corrupt DEA agents, led by Stansfield (Oldman). An unlikely relationship forms between these two as Mathilda is an outgoing and vibrant girl and Léon is a man who keeps to himself, with his only friend being a plant that he carefully takes care of. Soon, Mathilda expresses a desire to be taught how to become a hitman so that she can exact revenge on the death of her family.
It’s really the simple scenes that make this movie so amazing. There aren’t an excess of explosions, violent fighting, or people shooting at each other. Those things are all there, but in moderation. I feel like this is because the film had so many little moments that stand out because of the pure quality of acting in them. There is a moment when Portman’s character is getting back from the store just in time to see that her family was murdered just moments ago. She walks right past her family’s murderers and knocks on Léon’s door. The expression on her face as she is quietly begging him to let her in, but trying to maintain calmness so as to not alert the murderers is heart wrenching. You can’t help but feel your gut twist a little as you watch her trying desperately to hold back sobs. Portman displays superior acting during the whole film, despite her age and lack of experience.
I don’t want to leave out credit for Jean Reno as Léon, though. He is, of course, the other half of the very unique relationship of which this movie focuses on. Reno is brilliant, portraying Léon as seeming both distant and loving at the same time. As the opening scene shows you, he is very good hitman and doesn’t hesitate to take a life, yet we come to love this man more and more as the movie progresses and we come to see that he needs Mathilda just as much as she needs him. As much as this relationship could be seen as sort of disturbing, a little girl living with a man who kills for a living, he makes us feel comfortable with it.
The only minuscule flaw of the film would be that because it focuses so much on these two characters, other characters are left behind. Supporting characters appearances are very brief and even Oldman’s character, Stansfield, seems one dimension-ally evil, but still very effectively so. This didn’t bother me much though as I could watch Reno and Portman interact with each other all day and not get bored. As unconventional as it is, the chemistry between the two is spectacular.
Director Luc Besson handles this relationship perfectly. It easily could cause discomfort and feelings of awkwardness with the audience but instead we find it actually lovable and endearing. Besson creates a truly wonderful piece of art with this movie despite it not having a long list of super star actors, a huge budget, mind blowing special effects, and so on. It’s this minimalist method that truly heightens Léon as a film and makes it the great piece of film making it is. I was actually surprised this movie didn’t get any attention at all from the Academy that year as I feel like Besson, Portman, and Reno were all worthy of nominations. Even after watching it just once I can say that it is a brilliant film. I could probably watch certain scenes over and over and still feel the strong emotions I felt watching it the first time.
Conclusion: Léon is genuine, emotional, riveting, and personal. It’s superb acting is what really is the highlight of the movie along with a smart script by Besson. Besson doesn’t try to glorify any aspect of this movie and that’s what makes it so wonderful. It’s everything you could want in a movie; tragedy, action, love, laughter and more but most of all, it’s down to earth. Instead of feeling like you are observing these two’s relationship, it almost feels like you are right there in it with them. It’s a must-see if you haven’t already, and a must-watch-again if you already have.