Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
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There are always a couple of movies that everyone talks about, but you’ve never seen. For me, it’s 90% of the movies people talk about. I’ve only been into this reviewing business for a few months, and many, many movies that shape cinema have gone past me. The other day, I decided to get my hands dirty and rent two talked-about movies. An epic struggle inside the video store ensued. It’s like that whenever I walk through the old movies. I have no idea what to rent, and I’m torn between dozens of movies. I usually come out with the right titles, but not always. One time, I went out with Airheads (Brendan Fraser/Adam Sandler comedy) and Evil Dead. But last week, I made a right choice. I came out triumphant, with cult classic The Professional under one arm and L.A. Confidential under the other.
Léon (Jean Reno) is quite a sight. Over six feet tall, wearing a long black trench coat at all time, wearing a small woolen cap and those cool John Lennon glasses. He rarely talks and drinks milk like he was breathing air. Léon is a New Yorker, but not any New Yorker. He’s a hitman. Employed by Tony (Danny Aiello), Léon is considered one of the best hitmen in New York.
Mathilda (Natalie Portman), on the other part, is a young girl who lives in a troubled family. Her father makes no effort to cover the fact that he sells drugs. Her sister is obsessed on working out and her step-mother dresses like a tramp and treats her like crap. The only refuge Mathilda has is with her little brother. One day, as Mathilda is out grocery shopping, corrupt Narcotics officer Stansfield (Gary Oldman) and his men break into the apartment looking for drug money. Since Mathilda’s father can’t give it to them, he kills everyone. When Mathilda gets back, she goes directly to Léon, pleading him to let her in. He reluctantly accepts. From now on, the two form a bond. Léon teaches Mathilda how to “clean” so she can get back at Stansfield, and Mathilda teaches Léon how to read and write.
Léon was written by Luc Besson, a man that I do not particularly admire. Much of his stuff is dull (The Big Blue) or not my cup of tea (The Fifth Element). Léon is different from these films, and yet similar. Léon has a sense of weirdness to it that can make or break the movie for you. I know people who think Léon is brilliant, and some who don’t. In fact, the quality of the film is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on your tolerance this kind of movie. Some well established critics disliked this; some loved it. Instantly, it became a cult classic.
It’s obvious that Léon is inspired by many other stories, movies and otherwise. The book
(and subsequent movies) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov serves some inspiration in the relationship between Léon and Matilda. Pygmalion (the story of a street person enriched by education) also serves some inspiration. Thus, whilst watching Léon, I felt like I was watching something not quite new, but not a retread.
Jean Reno is considered France’s best (or most American) actor. In Léon he gives a sober, controlled performance. Reno is probably the last actor I would expect to play a role that shows rage. Even in the movies where he has to scream (Godzilla, The Crimson Rivers), he comes off as one calm dude. Thus, he is perfect for the role of the calm hitman. Natalie Portman (The Phantom Menace) has a great screen presence as Mathilda. For once, the role has a young teenage girl that doesn’t go overboard and make her sound like Alicia Silverstone in Clueless even though she isn't. and annoying. Gary Oldman gives an incredibly strange, magnetic performance. Forever a chameleon, Oldman transforms his character into something no one’s ever seen before. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always fare for the best. His character is incredibly weird and at times it’s really difficult to take him seriously. Danny Aiello plays Léon’s boss. As always, he is solid, but this time the role is to blame. It just seems underwritten.
There’s something about hitmen that makes them instantly “cool”, a real pop culture phenomenon. Léon, however, isn’t really about a hitman. It’s really about the relationship between Mathilda and Léon, but the U.S. release has cut 24 minutes out of the film. The result is a more unfocused, sloppy action movie that still has its merits. Since the version on this site is the American one, the comments go for that one.
Léon has an engaging storyline, great actors and frenetic action scenes. However, the version that I saw was pretty confused when it came to the relationship between Mathilda and Léon. It gave the impression that the love story was tacked on, when in fact it was the centerpiece of the movie. I recommend you seek out the version titled Léon, not The Professional.
(In continuing my pun-filled obsession with songs and titles, this opinion title is taken from the song Rio by Duran Duran, with some rather cheesy editing.)
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age