This summer, “Lucy,” an action film starring Scarlett Johansson, will be released in theatres. It is the latest film from Luc Besson, a talented French director who has made many sophisticated plot-driven action films. A favorite among them is “Leon,” which was released in America with the title “The Professional” in 1994.
“Leon” stars Jean Reno as a hitman or “cleaner” who lives in New York City’s Little Italy. Successful at the art of killing people, he has few abilities to deal with live ones and focuses most of his energy on a needy houseplant. His current neighbors are a family headed by feuding and inept parents dabbling in the drug smuggling world. Suspected of cashing in inappropriately, they are brutally murdered by corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (played by Gary Oldman) and his men. The only survivor is Matihlda (played by Natalie Portman), the 12 year old daughter who hides in Leon’s apartment. Although she was poorly treated by her father, sister and step-mother, Matihlda is very upset that her little brother was killed. She vows revenge. Leon reluctantly agrees to train her to kill. As they get to know each other, Leon and Matihlda develop a unique and warm relationship.
Besson assembled a strong cast. Jean Reno’s Leon is a dangerous killer, yet we still root for him. Gary Oldman is also strong as the villain, who has a flamboyant personality. The best performance in the film is by Natalie Portman. Her Matihlda is at once a bruised little girl and a vengeance driven woman at the same time. Although she has had virtually no affection in her life, she comes to love Leon.
Besson’s direction and editing make for many suspenseful sequences, such as the opening action scene. He transforms Leon’s weapons into works of art.
“Leon” is a great choice for fans of smart action films; although fans are encouraged to view the director’s cut as it is by far the better version of the movie.