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Leon, the top hit man in New York, has earned a rep as an effective "cleaner". But when his next-door neighbors are wiped out by a loose-cannon DEA agent, he becomes the unwilling custodian of 12-year-old Mathilda. Before long, Mathilda's thoughts turn to revenge, and she considers following in Leon's footsteps.
One of the only action films you'll find on my top ten list of best films ever is the 1994 thriller, "The Professional", most commonly referred to as "Leon", which was its French title. The film was directed by the great filmmaker Luc Besson and took the whole hitman genre and turned it on its head. I remember sitting in the theatre and watching this film when it was first released and being blown away by everything it offered. It truly is one of those film experiences you carry with you, because it is so well done and so passionate.
The film stars Jean Reno as Leon, a professional hitman who lives in a small apartment and has no friends, other than the small plant he waters and takes care of like a child. Living next door to him is a poor family, whose daughter Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is the subject of constant abuse and neglect. When her family is killed by a group of dirty cops, led by Stansfield (Gary Oldman), Leon takes her in and starts helping her plot her revenge against the men who killed her family. Leon takes a liking to the girl and starts showing her tricks of his trade, including a scene on a rooftop where he explains how to take targets out from long distances. When Stansfield starts figuring things out, he turns his attentions to Leon, which leads to the film's ultimate showdown.
This film is lightning in a bottle. From the opening sequence, you know you're watching something special. These are richly drawn characters who come alive on screen, who offer more than cliche and stereotype. Leon is a very complex character who just so happens to be a hitman. He is a nice guy and a compassionate, caring person, who is really not anything like the career he has chosen. Just look at the care and detail he pays to his plant, which really does become a character in the film. The relationship between Mathilda and Leon is beautiful and touching, and the ending of the film really does tug at your heart strings, even though a film like this, directed by a lesser filmmaker, could have come across as laughable.
One of the most underrated and underused actors around, Jean Reno is brilliant here as Leon, and he brings such depth and humor to the character that could have been so one dimensional in someone else's hands. In her first major film role, Natalie Portman shows her acting chops that she would go on to perfect in films like "Closer". The chemistry between Reno and Portman is the driving heart of the film. But, the real standout performance here comes from Gary Oldman, who turns Stansfield into a demon in Kenneth Cole shoes. Oldman takes the dialogue here and chews it and spits it out with such force and emotion. He uses words like weapons, and then turns around and twists them around like an opera. It's one of the truly great acting performances ever.
Most people have seen this film, and if not, they should immediately. It's the total package. It doesn't leave a single area untouched and it stays with you, in many ways. When a filmmaker can deliver such popcorn adrenaline and still find such heart and warmth in the story, you know that filmmaker is special. Luc Besson doesn't make many films these days, but if he made another couple like "The Professional", he'd probably be regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of recent memory. "The Professional" is one of the best films ever put to print, and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves cinema.
- added 08/15/2007, 09:37 PM
This is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the
greatest action films ever made. No cheap thrills,
no irritatingly cliched moments, all the acting is
spot-on, and the plot is nothing shy of genius. If
you don't like this movie, then I don't know what
to do with you. I'd say avoid film altogether.
- added 11/10/2009, 05:28 PM
I LOVE THIS MOVIE. I agree about Reno, excellent
under used actor. There's actually two versions of
this flick, and they are completely different in
their storytelling. Both are amazing. The
Director's Cut really pushes the envelope on
Portman and Reno's relationship.
- added 06/01/2010, 02:44 PM
I think Ginose said it best. 10/10