Film Review: Léon: The Professional (1994)
Occasion: Saturday night in
Léon is a professional assassin (Reno) who takes in 12 year old Mathilda (Portman) after her family are murdered. Her mind set on revenge, the little girl begs Leon to show her the ropes as a “cleaner”. His solitude thus invaded by childhood exuberance, Léon teaches Mathilda how to condition herself for a job, stalk her prey and kill it. In return Mathilda helps him learn to love again.
Portman is breathtaking as Mathilda, her debut role, which firmly established her as a star at the age of 13. A childhood crush can feel overwhelming and her desire to be loved by Léon only underscores Mathilda’s childish naivety. In director Besson’s hands, her passion for an older man is anything but obscene: her sweetness shines through the cigarette smoke which envelopes her pout and the I love you’s she showers upon Léon are heartfelt.
Reno is a gentle giant, tenderly nurturing his plant and his child ward; his inability to articulate his feelings softening his cold outer shell. In contrast, Oldman’s corrupt, psychotic DEA agent, Stansfield, is a symphony of insanity: “Death is whimsical today”, he sighs, as he decides in one scene not to kill Mathilda, emphasising his own fickle and erratic nature.
Léon is a cult classic stamped with Besson’s cinematic stylishness and his penchant for loveable anti-heroes. If ever a film could tug at the heart strings, while delivering nail-biting action, it is this one.
Léon: The Professional
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman