Leon, The Professional: Deluxe Edition
August 2, 2005
Luc Besson, ,
Starring: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello, Michael Badalucco, Ellen Greene, Frank Senger, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Keith A. Glascoe, Randolph Scott, ,
Fresh from the international success of La Femme Nikita (1990), Luc Besson attempted to conquer America with Leon (1994). Trimmed of a few minutes for a potentially uncomfortable scene involving a little girl proclaiming her love for a hitman and renamed The Professional, it became a bonafide hit that would pave the way for his magnum opus, The Fifth Element (1997). Eventually, the European cut of the movie was released in North America with all of the excised footage intact. Now, Sony/Columbia has released it on a DVD for the third time with a few new extras.
Leon (Reno) leads a simple existence. He lives by himself in a modest apartment in New York City. He waters his plant and occasionally kills people for his handler, Tony (Aiello). Early on, Besson establishes Leon’s proficiency as an assassin in an opening action sequence where he quickly and quietly dispatches seven of a drug dealer’s heavily armed guards only to appear out of the darkness, like a ghost, and hold the man at knifepoint. It is a brilliantly orchestrated sequence that brings a refreshing European sensibility to what has been predominantly an Americanized genre—the action film.
Leon lives in the same building as a little girl named Mathilda (Portman). Her father (Badalucco) is a criminal involved in drugs and works for a corrupt and quite insane police detective named Stan (Oldman). When he fails to supply Stan with what he wants, the drug-addled cop kills Mathilda’s entire family (although, Stan’s cover-up of this event and lack of disciplinary action is something that is never credibly explained in the movie). Mathilda seeks refuge with Leon, the only person who has ever showed her any kind of compassion, and vows revenge on the people who slaughtered her family. Leon takes her in and a relationship between them develops. She looks up to and gradually falls in love with him. Mathilda brings out Leon’s humanity and he teaches her discipline.
The Professional was Natalie Portman’s first film and she shows an incredible range at such a young age. She conveys utter sadness and despair upon finding out that her family has been killed but has to maintain a normal façade in front of the corrupt cops until she can get to Leon’s apartment. At first, he doesn’t want to get involved and refuses to open the door. There is an uncomfortable moment that feels like forever as poor Mathilda pleads for Leon to open the door or she will be killed. Portman has to convey a complex range of emotions in this scene and she pulls it off expertly.
Gary Oldman’s shining moment (one of many in the film) is when he interrogates Mathilda’s father after killing his family. He begins by talking about his appreciation of Beethoven that is scary and funny at the same time. Oldman gleefully chews up the scenery as a larger than life psycho and one of the most unhinged bad guys in the last ten years of cinema.
Jean Reno is also excellent in a nearly dialogue-less role. He relies on his expressive eyes and body language to convey emotion in any given scene. He would have made a fantastic silent film star.
One of the things that makes The Professional such an atypical action film is that it isn’t just wall-to-wall action sequences and cheesy one-liners. Besson takes the time to develop the characters of Leon and Mathilda. He cultivates their relationship over time as it becomes a platonic love affair of sorts. The Professional is a rare action film that has both substance and kick-ass action.
Sony/Columbia has released several copies of The Professional on DVD. This latest incarnation includes the Superbit version of the movie with optimum sound and picture quality and a whole new selection of extras celebrating its 10th anniversary. Also of note, this is Besson’s European cut a.k.a. “version integrale.”
On the first disc is a fact track, which allows one to watch the movie with running subtitles that display all sorts of factoids and interesting bits of trivia about the movie and the people that worked on it.
The second disc starts off with a “10 Year Retrospective” featurette. Besson decided to take Jean Reno’s Cleaner character from Nikita and make a movie around him. There are new interviews with Portman and Reno who talk about how they got involved with the movie and their experiences working on it. Many crew members are interviewed and talk about specific scenes and working with Besson. The most glaring omission with this doc is the lack of involvement from the director or Gary Oldman.
“Jean Reno: The Road to Leon” briefly examines the life and career of this talented actor. He talks about his philosophy of acting and how he met Besson early on in both of their careers. Reno speaks very eloquently about his character.
“Natalie Portman: Starting Young” is a good interview with the young actress. She talks about how her parents didn’t want her to do the movie but she convinced them anyway. There is footage of her audition that clearly shows how talented she was so early in life. Portman is as charming as ever and fans of hers will enjoy this extra.