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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Maythew #4: Leon (1994)

* * * 1/2

Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman

First of all, many thanks to my brother for picking a movie that I've been meaning to see for a long time. Second, many thanks to Luc Besson for making a movie that more than lives up to its formidable reputation. Leon (alternately known as The Professional and Leon: The Professional) is not just a fantastic action picture, it's also a pretty great character movie thanks in no small part to the central performances by Jean Reno and Natalie Portman.

Leon (Jean Reno) and Mathilda (Natalie Portman). On the surface the two could not seem to have less in common, one a grown contract killer, the other an abused child. Quickly, though, Leon establishes their personalities so that they seem to be on an even plane (which, incidentally, makes their relationship mildly less creepy. Mildly). Leon may be an efficient and ruthless killer, but he's also remarkably childlike, watching films with wide-eyed wonder, and submissively deferring to his mentor, a mobster named Tony (Danny Aiello). Mathilda, despite her young age and inherent immaturity, is nevertheless a remarkably self-possessed young woman who is, in certain ways, more grown up than her protector.

Leon and Mathilda are brought together following the slaughter of her family at the hands of rogue DEA agents lead by drug addicted Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda narrowly escapes death and reasons that since Leon saved her life, he's now responsible for it. He's reluctant to accept this responsibility but she persists, just as she's able to persist in convincing him to teach her how to be a "cleaner." She's a quick learner but not so quick that she's able to carry out her plans to exact revenge on Stansfield and her actions put her and Leon in an impossible situation that can only result in a great deal of bloodshed.

First and foremost, Leon is an awesome action movie. Besson has a great eye for staging dramatic and memorable action sequences and the final blowout between Leon and an entire police force is incredibly well crafted and executed. Even more amazing is that his attention to the visual details has not come at the expense of the characters, who are distinct and allowed to have dimension (though, in truth, Stansfield is a character who walks a fine line between inspired and over the top and Oldman's performance is something you'll either love or that will take you right out of the movie). The performances by Reno and Portman are pitch perfect, finding all the right notes in the complex relationship between their characters. There is absolutely no question in my mind as to why Leon only seems to grow in reputation as the years go by.

Matt's Thoughts: Young Natalie Portman is a creepy monster child, and I do not care for her lustfulness towards grown men. I'm not saying that Leon should have kept his door shut and allowed her to die in the hallway, but maybe Mathilda could have just left the groceries outside his door and walked away, saying she just needed to deliver them. It would have made Leon's life much easier. Also, he wouldn't be dead.

I liked the movie, but, again, my main concern is creepy Natalie Portman child. I understand that she was bored and stupid, but telling the desk clerk that you're the 12-year-old lover of a hitman is not that great an idea, considering he's, you know, a hitman. I just can't figure out why Leon left all of his money to her. She ruined your life, dude.

But maybe that's just my child-hate raging.


Shubhajit said...

Stephanie aka Norma - I loved the movie, too.

"There is absolutely no question in my mind as to why Leon only seems to grow in reputation as the years go by." Yep!

Matt - I understand your concerns, but c'mon, had the 2 not met, the movie wouldn't have been made in the first place. So that all-important meeting between the "hitman" & the "creepy monster child" was absolutely essential ;)

The Floating Red Couch said...

Besson, unfortunately, matured as a filmmaker right as John Woo hit the scene, and left Besson is the shadows.....

@ Matt: sure Leon would still be alive had he not opened the door -- but what a life? A fern, a carton of milk a day, and a boss that keeps all of his $?

(shameless self-promotion: http://www.floatingredcouch.com/2010/04/leon-professional.html)