Luc Besson directs Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman in this action thriller where a loner assassin takes in the neighbour’s twelve year old daughter when her family is killed by dirty D.E.A. agents.
Like Miller’s Crossing, this is a film I fell in love with when I was hardwiring my movie tastes and obsessions to the point where it felt undeniably like my own, sole possession. I know this movie back to front, left to right, beanie hat to bullet casing. The perfect movie for a quiet teenage boy – the action is crisp and impactful, the plotting clean and purposeful, the emotional content relatable and spellbinding, the visuals iconic and believable, the backstreet Manhattan location work exotic yet recognisable, the relationship between Léon and Mathilda is both Tarantino fairy tale wish fulfilment and bubbling with nascent sexual tension.
I think it is fine to give the riskier moments of attraction between the man child and streetwise Lolita a pass if you are a teenager watching this. You know Léon is a hulking innocent, more paternal than predatory… so the precocious child who is playing with sexual fire is completely safe to crush on and flirt with her saviour. And yes, I know Besson was impregnating an underage girl at the time of the movie’s inception (she even appears as a hooker… ugh!) but that creepiness and queasiness can be separated by the sheer class of the pure hearted hyper violent adventure as it unfolds. Besson the man may be a questionable character but Besson the storyteller here wisely defines separate sleeping areas for his unlikely leads and an unspoken but strictly imposed line that his adult killer will not cross. If only he did that in real life, hey? Too many words on a footnote about this masterpiece…
What makes Léon: The Professional god tier is four superb performances. Danny Aiello’s complex mob organiser… exploiting our Léon but clearly with a fatherly affection that goes beyond manipulation. Jean Reno’s wonderful innocent hitman… believable both as an artist for destructive death and an illiterate naïf in all other matters. Natalie Portman’s orphaned protégé… take out the lurches into kink and what bullied kid would want to train with the greatest contract killer in Little Italy? Like I say, wish fulfilment. She matches the adults scene for scene, line for line. A star is born. But maniac of the match is Gary Oldman’s pill popping, Beethoven loving Stansfield… a beautifully attired, utterly quotable bastard man. He dominates every frame, often those poor frames cannot contain him, in an performance that is delightfully hammy as it is unpredictably lethal. The stuff of genre movie dreams. “Death is… whimsical… today…”
Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk
We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/