Léon: The Professional (1994)

by | Apr 28, 2024 | 1990s, Action, Crime, Film Reviews | 0 comments

Release date: 14 September 1994 (France)
Genre: Action/Crime
Director: Luc Besson
Cinematographer: Thierry Arbogast
Budget: $16 million USD
Box office: $78.3 million USD


“Everyone else is dead.” – Mathilda (play by Natalie Portman)


A Killer Unlike Any Other: A Look at Luc Besson’s “Léon: The Professional”

Luc Besson’s 1994 action-thriller “Léon: The Professional” has carved out a unique space for itself in the genre. The gritty story of a professional hitman and a young girl seeking revenge transcends the typical gun-blazing shootouts, weaving a complex tale of loyalty, violence, and the unexpected bonds that form in the face of tragedy.

The narrative centres on Léon (Jean Reno), a stoic and efficient hitman with a strict moral code. His life is meticulously ordered, revolving around his work and his prized houseplant, a spathyphillum. This isolation is shattered when Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a twelve-year-old girl, witnesses the brutal murder of her family by corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Léon, having unwittingly become entangled in the situation, reluctantly takes Mathilda in.

Mathilda, fueled by grief and a burning desire for vengeance, begs Léon to train her in the ways of the assassin. Their dynamic forms the heart of the film. Léon, a man of routine with a surprising tenderness, becomes Mathilda’s reluctant mentor. He teaches her the skills of his trade: combat, weaponry, and the art of remaining unseen. Mathilda, with her fierce intelligence and emotional vulnerability, challenges Léon’s solitary existence. She forces him to confront his own loneliness and the yearning for connection that lies beneath his stoic exterior. Their bond is an unlikely one, forged in violence and loss, yet it becomes the emotional core of the film, adding depth and resonance to the action sequences.

Besson, known for his visually striking style, infuses “Léon” with a dark, neo-noir aesthetic. The film’s opening sequence sets the tone, creating a stark contrast between the sterile whiteness of Léon’s apartment and the blood-soaked hallway where Mathilda’s family lies dead. The grimy underbelly of New York City is brought to life, with scenes shot on location in Brooklyn and Harlem. These gritty locations add a layer of authenticity to the story, grounding the fantastical elements of a hitman’s life in a believable world.

Speaking of the cast, “Léon” marks a turning point in Natalie Portman’s career. At just twelve years old at the time of filming, she delivers a powerful and nuanced performance that belies her age. Her portrayal of Mathilda is both heartbreaking and fierce. She captures the vulnerability of a child who has lost everything, yet she also portrays a steely determination to avenge her family. Jean Reno offers a perfect counterpoint to Léon. With minimal dialogue, he conveys a wealth of emotion through his expressive eyes and stoic demeanour. We see a flicker of humanity beneath his hardened exterior, a longing for connection that Mathilda awakens. Gary Oldman is equally captivating as the villainous Stansfield. His unhinged personality and theatrical delivery make him a chilling antagonist. He’s not just a generic villain; he’s a terrifying embodiment of unchecked power and sadistic pleasure.


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While “Léon: The Professional” garnered critical acclaim for its performances, direction, and action sequences, its box office performance was modest. The film’s dark subject matter and unconventional relationship between Léon and Mathilda may have deterred some viewers. However, over the years, the film has gained a devoted cult following, praised for its exploration of complex themes that go beyond the typical action thriller.

“Léon” is not simply a film about violence and revenge. It’s a story about the human need for connection, even in the most unlikely of places. It explores the power of redemption and the sacrifices we make for those we love. The film’s ending, both poignant and ambiguous, leaves a lasting impression, prompting viewers to ponder the complexities of human relationships and the enduring power of hope, even in the face of darkness.

Beyond its emotional core, “Léon” is a masterclass in action filmmaking. The action sequences are meticulously crafted, balletic in their precision and brutality. Besson uses slow-motion and dynamic camera angles to create a sense of heightened reality, drawing viewers into the heart of the action. The film’s iconic fight scene in the DEA headquarters is a testament to Besson’s skill in creating visually stunning and emotionally charged action sequences.

“Léon: The Professional” is more than just a stylish action film. It’s a character-driven story that explores the depths of human connection, loss, and the search for redemption. With its outstanding performances, gritty visuals, and thought-provoking themes, “Léon” is a film that lingers long after the credits roll. It’s a must-watch for anyone seeking a unique and emotional experience in the action genre.


My Rating: 8/10





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