A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 209 – Leon: The Professional

Leon: The Professional – September 25th, 2010

I know I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve seen every bit of it. But not all at once. It’s an odd movie that I’ve seen in pieces here and there, flipping past it on television or catching a few minutes when friends were watching it in the dorm in college. Things like that. But sitting down and watching it beginning to end was a new thing. I tend to do this with movies sometimes and then when asked I say I’ve seen them and only when I really think about it do I realize I’ve seen it in a patchwork sort of way. Making myself realize this and sit down and watch it as it’s meant to be watched is yet one more benefit of this little project.

I do love this movie. It has so many excellent parts. So it makes me sad that the full version has so many uncomfortable moments. The two protagonists are Leon, a hit man in his 30s at least and Mathilda, a girl who’s probably around 11 or 12 at most. And the full version has Mathilda developing a romantically-inclined fixation on Leon, to the point of asking him to be her first sexual partner. That was cut out of the original American release precisely because it made test audiences feel really uncomfortable, thereby ruining the mood of the movie. I won’t say it’s ruined for me, but it’s definitely not a part of the movie I enjoy. I think the relationship between the two characters is fascinating enough without it. I am glad to have read that Jean Reno has said that he intentionally portrayed Leon in such a way as to lead the viewer to believe that he would never take advantage of Mathilda or her fixation on him. It helps a great deal to know that at least one adult in the making of the film was concerned with the dynamic and wanted to make sure it played more as a fixation and not as an actual romantic relationship.

Now, a girl entering puberty, whose family have all been killed (and brutally so), who’s got one single person who can protect her and teach her how to be an adult? That’s not set up to produce a character whose emotional maturity is at all typical. Crushes on inappropriate people happen. So I do appreciate when Leon hears what Mathilda is saying and has to deal with it. Has to tell her no without alienating her because she is alone and has a habit of going off and doing foolish things when she feels alienated. One gets the impression that Mathilda has been largely on her own for a long time. Being able to count on anyone is new to her, and it comes in the wake of enormous tragedy. I just don’t like watching it all. Nothing ever happens, but it’s unsettling all the same. And that’s a real shame, because without it, the development of their life together is really something unique and interesting and altogether absorbing.

In the wake of the brutal murders of Mathilda’s entire family, Leon takes her in. This is a fateful moment and played brilliantly by both Reno as Leon and Natalie Portman as Mathilda. On opposite sides of the door, not speaking to each other directly, they go from being utterly disconnected to inextricably linked in a matter of a few tense seconds. In many other filmmakers’ hands, this would be the start of an emotional drama. But Luc Besson has made Leon a hired killer who works for an Italian crime boss. And Mathilda becomes his protege, determined to get revenge on the men who killed her family. What follows is not so much an action movie. Yes, there is action, but it’s more about Mathilda and Leon and what happens when two such lonely and different people end up sharing a life.

Leon is very much alone when the movie begins. He is good at what he does. The best. He is a professional. He goes home after a day of killing and he waters his plant and has a glass of milk and sleeps in his chair. It is routine. Mathilda lives with her father, step-mother, half sister and half brother. The first three she can’t stand, but she loves her brother. He’s the only one she cares about. He’s the one she ends up wanting revenge for. It’s implied that Mathilda’s had problems – or her father had problems with her – before the movie began. She was enrolled at a school for troubled girls and seems to have run away. They’re not the same character by any means, but they end up filling holes in each others’ lives. Mathilda gives Leon a purpose and passion again. He wants to protect her and provide for her. Leon gives Mathilda security like she’s never known. He’s gruff with her, and strict, but not abusive and by the end he’s genuinely invested in her, which her family never was. It’s not quite a parent and child relationship, but it’s also not a partnership of equals. It is its own thing. Unique. And one wonderful thing that Leon gives Mathilda by the end is the ability to look for people who can help her and accept their help. I love that.

But it’s not all domestic bliss with Mathilda and Leon having reading lessons and milk and cookies and polishing their guns together. No. Because we need a villain. And who is our villain? Why, it’s Gary Oldman! Of course it’s Gary Oldman! He’s a sociopath who happens to have a high placed job that lets him cover up his sociopathic killing sprees under the guise of legal work! Brilliant! He’s also often on some sort of chemical high and has a thing for Beethoven, reminding me a little of Dominique Pinion’s character in Diva, with his headphones on when we meet him. Oldman gets some fantastic moments in the movie. Some real scenery chewing bad guy stuff, where he gets to shoot lots of people and prattle on about how Mozart is too light for killing to and then he’s screaming for backup and when he wants backup he wants everyone. With Leon’s steadfast calm and Mathilda’s steely resolve (and quiet tears in places), Oldman as Stansfield is wild and unpredictable. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition and works brilliantly for the movie.

In many ways this is a character study masquerading as an action movie. It serves up shooting and explosions a-plenty, but more than that it serves up a look into two unexpected lives converging. My issues with the full version aside, I think it’s a wonderfully written, plotted and performed movie. And really, Mathilda’s so going to kick more ass when she grows up.

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

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