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Director: Luc Besson
133 minutes (18) Columbia
review by Octavio Ramos Jr
French filmmaker Luc (The Big Blue, The Fifth Element) Besson's American
début, Leon (simply 'The Professional' in its US release), like Nikita,
addresses the themes of assassination and love. The film stars Jean Reno (Godzilla
and Ronin) as Leon, who made his first appearance in Nikita, also as a
'cleaner', a euphemism for assassin or killer. Leon works for 'Old Tony' (Danny Aiello),
a Mafioso who takes care of business for several Mafia bosses.
After a dazzling opening sequence in which Leon delivers a most
effective message to a rival drug dealer, viewers are introduced to Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA) agent and scumbag Norman Stansfield and his minions, all of whom use the
DEA to cover their own drug-dealing and assassination exploits. Stansfield, who has an
affinity for classical music, pays a visit to a drug-drop holder who has 'cut'
(diminished the quality of) some cocaine. When the holder refuses to return the 'lost'
portion of smack, Stansfield as his men kill everybody in the house, including the
holder's wife and kids - except for one, Matilda (Natalie Portman), who seeks solace in
Little twelve-year-old Matilda has experienced a tough life; key on
her mind is revenge, and when she discovers that Leon is a cleaner, she proposes to pay
him for the assassination of all the men involved with her family's death. She also asks
to become Leon's apprentice. Leon at first refuses, but he is drawn to the girl and
subsequently acquiesces. As Leon trains his charge in the fine art of assassination,
the two fall in love. This perhaps is the most controversial part of the film; because
of it, the American version cut 24 minutes of footage.
This international version restores the footage, much of which involves
Matilda's seduction of Leon. The film drives to a tragic end, but the final sequence is
one of rebirth, with Matilda metaphorically giving Leon the 'roots' he craves and in
effect becoming even older and wiser herself in the process. Leon is a visually exciting
film packed with choreographed action sequences filled with flying rounds, explosions,
and plenty of corpses.
In addition to this action eye-candy, there is an underlying theme of
maturity. Matilda is mature for her age, whereas Leon is not. The same is true for
Stansfield, whose immaturity is reflected in his second in command, who in turn is much
younger but much more clear-headed and sophisticated. This theme is expressed visually
and through action throughout the film, but in one sequence (cut in the American version)
Leon leaves Matilda so that he "can grow up" and she can "get older."
It is in this scene that Besson drives his theme home.
The international version of this film is available on both VHS and DVD.
DVD extras are minimal, with an isolated music score, theatrical trailers, talent
files, and various posters used to promote the film across the world.
Octavio Ramos Jr
originally published online in VideoVista #19, October 2000
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