Leon the Professional (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 19, 2009 by Dennis Amith
Action-packed, riveting film from beginning to end. Actors Jean Reno and Gary Oldman are both fantastic and are always well-utilized by director Luc Besson. Also, an amazing performance by a young Natalie Portman in a satisfying Blu-ray release featuring solid picture and audio quality and includes both the theatrical and the original extended director’s cut version. Definitely recommended!
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TITLE: Leon the Professional
DURATION: 109 Minutes (Theatrical Version)/133 Minutes (Extended Version)
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
RATED: R (For scenes of strong graphic violence and for language)
COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: November 17, 2009
Written and Directed by Luc Besson
Executive Producer: Claude Besson
Line Producer: John Garland and Bernard Grenet
Music by Eric Serra
Cinematography by Thierry Arbogast
Edited by Sylvie Landra
Casting by Todd M. Thaler
Production Design by Dan Weil
Art Direction by Gerard Drolon
Set Decoration by Francoise Benoit-Fresco
Costume Design by Magali Guidasci
Jean Reno as Leon
Gary Oldman as Stanfield
Natalie Portman as Mathilda
Danny Aiello as Tony
Peter Appel as Malky
Michael Badalucco as Mathilda’s father
Action-packed, riveting film from beginning to end, Jean Reno is always utilized well by director Luc Besson. Also, an amazing performance by Natalie Portman (12-years-old at the time) in a satisfying Blu-ray release featuring both the theatrical and the original extended director’s cut version. Definitely recommended!
Hot after his film “La Femme Nikita”, in 1994 Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”, writer of “The Transporter” films) would go on to work on his film “Leon” (Leon the Professional). The film was written and directed by Besson and featured music by Eric Serra (“The Fifth Element”, “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc”, “GoldenEye”) and cinematography by Thierry Arbogast (“Babylon AD”, “Femme Fatale”, “Kiss of the Dragon”, “The Messanger: The Story of Joan of Arc).
The film would reunite Besson with popular French action star Jean Reno (Mission: Impossible”, “Ronin”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “The Pink Panther”) who he worked on in “Nikita” and “Le grand bleu” and would be the first major film for 12-year-old actress at the time, Natalie Portman (“Star Wars: Episodes I-III”, “V for Vendetta”, “Paris, je ‘taime”). For the most part, the film received mostly positive critic reviews but also some controversy as the film would feature an older man raising a young girl and teaching her how the life of a hitman. Let alone, a 12-year-old who is attracted to an older man.
But the film is primarily about two people who find importance with each other. A hitman and a girl who lost her family and both are trying to survive.
“Leon the Professional” is about professional hitman Leon (Reno) who is known as a “Cleaner”. A man who works for mafia boss Tony (played by Danny Aiello, “Do the Right Thing”, “Lucky Number Slevin”, “Hudson Hawk”) and is skilled at making the kill and getting the target. Outside of being a hitman, Leon lives a calm, solitary life of working out, drinking milk and taking care of a plant (who he calls his best friend).
Each time he returns to his apartment, he sees a teenage girl named Mathilda (Portman) who looks as if she has been physically abused and smoking a cigarette. Meanwhile, Mathilda’s father (played by Michael Badalucco, “The Practice”) is shown having some major problems with corrupt DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) agents led by Stansfield (played by Gary Oldman, “The Fifth Element”, “Air Force One”, “Sid and Nancy”, “Harry Potter” films). The agents have been paying Mathilda’s father to store illegal drugs in his apartment and appears to be stealing the drugs.
They give him a chance to recover the drugs and then we get to see the life of Mathilda, her father and family at the home. Mathilda is quite distant from her father and her older sister. She is close to her four year old brother but her home life is very dysfunctional. But Mathilda goes out to buy some groceries for her family.
While she’s out, Stansfield and the corrupt DEA agents storm the home and kills Mathilda’s father and the family members. While Mathilda returns, she realizes that something bad has happened and instead of going straight into her home, because DEA agent is posted outside the door, she goes straight towards Leon’s home and cries and pleads for him to open the door. Leon being the loner, doesn’t want to but seeing the anguish on her face, he allows her to come in. Stansfield realizes that not all family members are dead and now wants to find Mathilda.
This begins the life of Leon the Professional who takes care of Mathilda and are seen staying in different hotels as he works on his hits. But with Mathilda wanting revenge for her brother’s death, requests Leon to train her on how to become a “cleaner”. But as Leon has trouble with being close to anyone, the young 12-year-old starts to fall in love with the hitman. Meanwhile, Stansfield will do whatever he can to find the missing girl.
“Leon the Professional” had an original theatrical release but there was an extended version (or Director’s Cut) featuring an extra 24-minutes of footage which focuses on Leon training Mathilda but also the emotional connection the two have for each other. Both are included on the Blu-ray release and personally, I prefer the extended version as the screenplay focuses a lot on the friendship between Leon and Mathilda.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
When I first saw “Leon the Professional”, I admit that I was happy. Why? Many films created between 1986-1996 and released on Blu-ray, some really look their age, transfer is not all that great or is very soft but for “Leon the Professional”, the colors are vibrant, blacks are nice and deep and detail can be seen. The old buildings that Leon and Mathilda live in, you can see all the cracks and how old they look. It just seems much more clearer. Sharpness is great and the colors just pop. There is a nice amount of grain as well and no softness. This doesn’t look like a film that is 15-years-old. So, needless to say…picture quality is fantastic.
Audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in 5.1 DTS-HD MA (in English, French and Portuguese), there are really good action sequences and gun fights that really utilize the soundscape from the front, center and surround channels. Especially during the final confrontation, the film sounds great. Music by Eric Serra also helps create the mood. For the most part, this is not an action film that is overly aggressive as most of the film is dialogue-based between Leon and Mathilda but for the most part, when the action scenes do happen, you’ll definitely hear those gun shots, machine gun rattling, explosions really clear.
Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.
“Leon the Professional” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
“Leon the Professional” is a riveting, action-packed film. And for those who are familiar with Luc Besson films, you expect intense gunfighting sequences and plenty of destruction. Granted, he has done a lot more of that now with recent films but back in 1994, “Leon the Professional” was entertaining then and 15-years later, continues to be quite entertaining now.
Jean Reno is really good playing those action, hitman type of scenes. He’s a tough guy but Luc Besson knows how to utilize his character quite well in his films. Gary Oldman is always a fantastic villain and his character Stansfield is just repulsive. Murdering young children definitely made the viewer want either Leon or Mathilda to really get their revenge on him by the end of the film. And the way it played out, was well-done. But as Reno and Oldman were fantastic, Natalie Portman was incredible. The actress demonstrated in this film that she can be an actress that can excel in emotional scenes and for the most part, back in 1994, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would grow up to be an actress to watch for. Overall, great acting by the three main characters of the film.
As for the controversy which led the film to be cut for its theatrical version, I can understand where opposition groups were coming from. Mathilda was a child that was raised in a dysfunctional setting and she has been emotionally damaged that the only person that she sees as her savior was Leon. A man who lives in isolation and his best friend is a plant. But of course, there is a sense of sadness that broods with the character of Leon and somehow, these two find comfort within each other. For Leon, it’s more of a friend, while Mathilda, looks at it her emotions as being in love. Nevertheless, for those who get disturbed by those scenes of Mathilda’s emotional anguish (ala Russian Roulette) and the fact that Leon trains Mathilda on how to kill people (using a paint gun), there is a theatrical version included on the Blu-ray that eliminates those scenes and an extended version that contains those extra 24 minutes.
As for the Blu-ray, I just felt the picture quality was fantastic for an early 90’s film. With quite a few 90’s films that looks its age, the amount of colors and detail for on this HD release was great and the audio quality was also great. Fans of the film will definitely enjoy this Blu-ray release, especially since it has both theatrical and extended versions of the film.
Overall, a solid Blu-ray release for “Leon the Professional”. Highly recommended!
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