A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Leon – The Professional

September 25, 2010

Leon: The Professional

Ahh the joys of Luc Besson. He’s got such a simple vision. His movies are full of conflicted criminals and over the top violence. They have silent lonely men who discover something about their humanity over the course of the movie. And waifish kickass girls. You’ll recall that when I was reviewing Unleashed I was puzzled by the strange morality and the almost surreal world it takes place in, but that as soon as I realized that it was written by Luc Besson it suddenly made everything clear. You can see hints of La Femme Nikita in The Fifth Element. So take all those tropes, those repeated themes in his work and boil them down to their most basic essence and you get this movie. It has the most moral and conflicted of criminals. It has the most waifish waif. It has the most ridiculous against-all-odds climactic battle. In short – this is the most essentially Luc Besson of all Luc Besson movies.

I’ve heard that this is a spiritual successor to La Femme Nikita and that the character of Leon that Jean Reno plays here is the same silent cleaner he plays at the end of Nikita. (This seems unlikely, since people refer to him as an Italian hit-man and he speaks Italian at times – in spite of having a heavy French accent.) It’s established right at the beginning that he is a badass killing machine. But of course he’s a lonely man with no real life. He kills people for a living, and he’s extremely good at it, but then he goes home alone to his empty apartment and his houseplant and drinks his milk. He sleeps sitting in a chair in the corner and uses his bed only to do sit-ups. His neighbour is a twelve year old girl with an attitude whose father is a dope mule for a group of low-life drug dealing scum. When Mathilda’s father tries to rip off his bosses they come down hard on him. They kill him and all the rest of his family too, but they miss Mathilda, and she ends up with Leon.

Leon knows from the start that she’s going to ruin his life, but he doesn’t have the heart to kick her out onto the street. Mathilda soon finds out what Leon’s profession is and she becomes determined to have him teach her how to become a hit-man so that she can kill the men who killed her little brother (and the rest of her family too.) If you don’t know exactly where this is headed then you haven’t watched enough action movies. There are not twists or turns in this plot – it moves forward with the momentum of a freight train towards its inevitable conclusion.

What makes the movie great is a combination of the fantastic action (a couple bits of which were directly cribbed by the Wachowski Brothers when they made the first Matrix movie) an the strong performances. Jean Reno is the perfect strong silent type. He plays Leon with a kind of vulnerability. Like Danny in Unleashed hes just a guy who is exceptionally good at killing, but he’s got a child-like spirit. His only friend and mentor is Tony, played by Danny Aiello. Danny takes a role that’s pretty much just a warmed over Godfather but with fewer lines and manages to give him a heart. It’s mostly just in glances and movements because he has so little to work with, but you really do kind of care for this fatherly mob boss by the end of the movie.

Natalie Portman is the driving force throughout most of the movie. It’s an unforgiving role. As with Jennifer Connelly in yesterday’s movie she is often petulant, and sometimes annoying. I suppose she plays such a convincing awkward teenager because she really was so young at the time. A large portion of the movie is given over to the relationship between Mathilda and Leon, and it’s actually a pretty complex relationship to capture. Mathilda sees herself as more adult than she is, what with her smoking and her swearing, and she has a very strong will. Much of the plot of the movie comes from her refusal to listen to anybody else and her determination to exact revenge. She develops a schoolgirl crush on Leon which makes for some of the most awkward parts of the film. In most things Leon wants only to protect her, which means that he wants to protect her from his world as well, but still he has trouble refusing her when she demands that he teach her the ways of a cold hearted killer. It’s an interesting dynamic with some truly awkward moments and also some very tender ones.

Rounding out the cast is by far my favorite part of the movie: Gary Oldman. Crazy motherf*cking Gary Oldman. He’s done a whole lot of memorable roles, and he always seems able to create whole new characters for himself, but this is one of the best. He plays Stansfield, the dirty DEA detective who heads the gang that kills Mathilda’s family. The character as written is just an egomaniacle crazy killer, but Oldman brings such verve, such abandon and such power to the role that he livens up the entire movie. You really need to believe that this is a character capable of killing a twelve year old girl, capable of enjoying it even, and on this Gary Oldman delivers. In spades. I want to go back and watch his scenes again right now just for the grin that he brings to my face.

This movie is so much fun. The whole Luc Besson thing with the reluctant criminal with a heart learning how to be human never gets old to me, and this is by far my favorite. It makes me really look forward to watching Taken later in the project, and I’m even tempted to buy The Transporter, of which I’ve only seen parts when I played it in the store one day. Fun, rediculous, over-the-top stories. Sure, Besson only really makes one movie over and over again, but it’s such a great movie that I can easily forgive him for it and look forward to seeing it again.

September 25, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | ,

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