reviews have appeared in McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
Orlando Sentinel, Spin Magazine, The World, Orlando Magazine
Autoweek Magazine among others. He is the founder and
editor of Movie
was never anything subtle about Luc Besson’s Leon:
The Professional, titled Leon overseas but The Professional
here, and retitled both as it arrived on video.
minimalist thriller with maximalist pull, it’s an opera
of violence with performances both understated and bombastic
enough to blow the speakers out in the theater.
the film that launched Besson in this hemisphere and set Jean
Reno firmly on the path to action stardom. It was the screen
debut of future Oscar winner Natalie Portman. And it was the
last movie the great Gary Oldman made during his drug binge
years, and it shows. He sobered-up from authentically ‘bleary’
and went on to win an Oscar himself.
is . . . whimsical, today.”
Oldman’s diva turn as a volcanic, classical music-loving
addict, a murderously corrupt D.E.A. agent, isn’t the
only thing about this Little Italy epic that’s out of
control. This picture is bracing and moving, flippant and
Oh, and unsettling to the point of disturbing, borderline
repellent. That’s just what’s on the screen, not
even taking into account the accusations that hit Besson when
#MeToo crossed the Atlantic that seem to fold onto the pervy
tightrope this picture walks.
story is a Gloria variation about a child taken in after her
family is slaughtered by gangster law enforcement agents.
She is protected from the mortal threat that comes with being
a witness to mass murder. Here, the protector is a ‘cleaner,’
a variation on a hitman character Reno played in La Femme
is simple, illiterate and all-business. But when the 12--year-old
neighbour girl he’s noticed smoking, sporting a black
eye and a foul mouth knocks on his door just after four men
have just murdered her father, stepmother, half sister and
younger half-brother, the always-relocating killer-for-hire
lets her in.
the relationship that adds an edge beyond edgy and gives Leon
a heaping helping of cringe. Look at the way Besson has Mathilda
dressed — short-shorts, leggings, midriff-baring tops.
Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver comes to mind, sexualized
costuming for a child obsessed with the Transformers cartoons.
Leon being a tad simple, we’re allowed to ponder this
connection, which isn’t quite fatherly and yet never
crosses any finite line in a romantic regard. But damn, it
Mathilda convinces her protector to play a dress-up game of
“Who is she, now?” it’s damned creepy, but
kind of apt that she trots out as Madonna in bra-baring “Material
Girl” mode. But then, bizarrely, she is Seven Year
Itch subway grate “Happy birthday, Mister President”
parent in the audience must have squirmed at that. Did Portman’s?
went to New York in ’94 to review and interview the
stars of this film and Atom Egoyan’s middle-aged men
trooping to a slutty schoolgirl-uniformed exotic dance club
— Exotica –which previewed the same weekend.
Between barely-beyond-a-teen Portman and Exotica teen Mia
Kirshner, one could get a seriously jaded take on stage parents,
even though Portman’s escorted her to her interviews.
the best argument against seeing this film through a narrow,
creeper-behind-the-camera lens is the bravura movie-making
that just bowls you over even as you fret about what lines
Monsieur Luc might cross.
and villains are framed in tight, sweaty close-ups, action
beats perfectly-assembled, characters built out of on-the-nose
casting (Danny Aiello as Leon’s Italian restaurant “contractor”
and banker) right down to Oldman. Who better to play an cultured,
psychotic addict, someone whose every swallowed pill is an
limits how much of the city we see, concentrating on the old,
iron-railing’d New York flophouse, the worn-out apartment
and Leon’s spartan lifestyle.
contract killer wears Windsor-rimmed sunglasses, even when
he’s sleeping — upright, pistol-at-hand, in the
comfiest chair in any hotel room or apartment he rents. His
outdoor uniform is a stocking cap and trench coat which covers
his leather weapons harness/vest.
is a loner with only an ancient leather suitcase that carries
his arsenal and a few clothes, a violin case and a houseplant,
“My only friend . . . always happy.”
weeps for her kid brother, not her abusive father, his latest
wife or her jazzercise-obsessed half-sister. And when Leon
bluntly tells her his line of work, she wants to know his
price, and hearing that, if he can teach her to “clean.”
film’s light treatment of this is seriously twisted.
He teaches her his rules — “No women, no kids”
— borrowed from the hitman thrillers of John Woo. He
explains the levels of expertise killers-for-hire acquire.
Sniping from afar, at first, with ‘the knife’
being the close quarters weapon you master last, after you’ve
grown hardened to murdering.
training is chilling, but cute.
wants to execute the men who killed her little brother. Leon
doesn’t discourage this and goes as far to offer her
a pistol. That lack of boundaries and push-back will bring
the full weight of New York law enforcement down on them.
sticks with you about the film is that first hit, an epic
one-man assault on a territory-violating heavy surrounded
by body guards.
coming up. Somebody serious.”
Serra’s score, romantically orchestral if a tad nervy,
adds sleigh bells when violence is coming. That’s been
copied in many a thriller score since.
comes at his victims from above, and below, one at a time
and then in a group. Bullets perforate the metal shutters
to the mobster’s rental. We can guess what happened
to the mugs on the balcony when the blinds were dropped, blocking
is a film that whips the viewer around, snaps him back in
his seat and makes him cringe at the adorable business of
teaching a child to ‘clean’ and the relationship
rendered inappropriate simply by virtue of Leon’s childishness
and Mathilda’s imitations of maturity.
launched the Transporter series, dabbled in sci-fi (The
Fifth Element), and produced, wrote and/or directed films
like Lucy and Anna. Very young, very skinny and girlish women
have been a regular feature of his thrillers, either as objects
of desire to be transported, or petite young things who kill.
even gave his then-much-younger wife Milla Jovovich her own
epic, The Messenger.
eyebrows his predilections used to raise were once dismissed
as “That’s guys in the movie biz for you,”
and “Well, he’s FRENCH.” Now, post-Weinstein,
not so much.
in a way, that transgressive edge adds to the disquiet of
The Professional, a movie that would be all flashy
technique and Oldman without Mathilda, Portman and Reno’s
“Leon” struggling to figure out what to do with
her and how to take her.
my money, it’s every bit the classic that its contemporary
thriller, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is thought
to be, a film that engages, thrills and repels in equal measure.