-- review originally published in "JoBlo.com presents...the 50 Coolest Movies of All-Time" --I’ve always been extra-amazed with films that manage to combine various elements from different genres and make them all work as a cohesive, and entertaining, whole. THE PROFESSIONAL, also known in parts simply as LEON, is just that movie, one that is able to balance one of the greater platonic “love” stories that I’ve been engaged in on film, with an all-out kickass action shoot ‘em up, starring one of the best hitmen in the history of movies: Leon the cleaner. Jean Reno plays that hitman and plays his damn well (he should, he played the exact same character in Besson’s earlier film called LA FEMME NIKITA, only his character’s name was Victor the cleaner in that one). At first, you’re not sure if the guy is just a man-child in goofy clothing, but when the shooting starts, it’s obvious that he knows exactly what he’s doing and that his attire, is just part of his very strange being (slick sunglasses, by the way). He also likes to be alone, that is until a cute 12-year old loses her entire family, and bunks up with the mushy Italian. That tootsie-pop is none other than a young Natalie Portman, charming the pants out of anyone watching, with a peppy turn as a strong, independent girl with an adorable flip haircut and plenty of sensuality…for a 12-year old, that is.
And their relationship is one of the better (also creepier) parts of this movie, which manages to present us with a plausible “love” story between these two very divergent people, despite the fact that one of them is an adult and the other a pre-teen, with a real sense of growing respect, trust and love, between them. Their notable chemistry and talent also solidify this element in the film, and even though their relationship is always non-sexual in nature, the director’s cut of this film does insinuate a little more. But hang on here, don’t believe for a second that this movie is a lovey-dovey drama or something. Sure, it slaps itself in a dramatic neutral zone after its initial wham-bam lead-in, but once the characters get to know one another, the plot kicks back into high gear, and guns, shoot-outs and suspense returns to the forefront. Leading that way is yet another great actor bringing his “A” game to the plate, Gary Oldman, who not only plays his extremely nasty copper as over-the-top as you’ve ever seen, but he makes even his most basic words or movements, bubble into a life of their own. My personal favorite aspect of his character was when he would slide that green and yellow pill down his throat. I’m not exactly sure what he was taking or why he felt the need to tilt his head up and his neck sideways when he took it, but I bought it…gangbusters! I also loved the way that he would take a simple line of dialogue and bombast it into something altogether Oldman, like “Bingo!” and “Everyone!!!” A classic bully, who despite being unrealistically unrestrained for a high-ranking DEA officer, succeeds for his purposes in this film.
Writer/director Luc Besson also does an amazing job with the style in this film, with many hip shots, slo-mo action sequences, POV angles for mucho coolness and just the right amount of score and songs in the soundtrack. Of course, you cannot discuss this movie without mentioning the ultra-slick shoot-out sequences, one of which involves the death of Portman’s family members and the final broohaha, which is one of the better showdowns that I’ve ever seen on film. How many men does it take to bring down only one, you may ask? Well, you gotta remember that this “one man” is protecting the love of his life, boys and girls. The man will do anything and use all of his resources, to keep her alive. I had never felt the extreme depth of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda in this film before, but it touched me quite a bit this time around. Within all of that chaos, that bloodshed, that loneliness…these two people were able to find one another, connect and help each other grow, share and love. This amazing tale, along with the wicked action scenes, the awesome opening sequence, the three formidable performances by Reno, Portman and Oldman, make this film one of the best hitmen movies of all-time, and definitely up there in terms of love connections. Sure, the 12-year old thing is a little perverted (although handled quite tastefully, if I do say so myself) but I believe that the greater point of the film is about love conquering your fears, and this flick certainly scores there. The ending is also very poignant and uplifting, and seemingly open for a possible sequel, for which rumors have been circulating for years. Mathilda Returns? Chill the milk, water the plants and cock the guns…let’s boogie!!
10 Year Retrospective (25 minutes): This is a featurette in which cast and crew from the film's production in New York and Paris, speak about the film today, specifically their recollections about how it all came together, how it was to shoot and everything that goes with that. Unfortunately, the main man, writer/director Luc Besson, is MIA, as is actor extraordinaire Gary Oldman. In fact, even Jean Reno and Natalie Portman have only a few small bits to say here, with most of the featurette's runtime focusing on people like Mathilda's mom from the beginning of the film, the "fat man" from the film's amazing opening sequence, the editor, the cameraman, as well as one of Besson's many previous fiances (basically, people you don't really give a shit about), who seems to have the most camera time, while she only played the "blonde babe" in the movie. A disappointment.
Jean Reno: The Road to Leon (13 minutes): This featurette is a touch more interesting than the previous one, only because we do get to sit down with Reno himself, one-on-one, and discuss some of his thoughts on the film, but even though it's a little interesting, it too seemed to lack any real "oomph", with more focus on Reno's own acting roots, how he dealt with fame, etc..., and not as much about the film. Something for big-time Reno fans more than actual fans of the movie looking for insight.
Natalie Portman: Starting Young (12 minutes): Now here was a featurette that was quite engaging, with a straight-forward interview with Portman now (although for some reason, she looks like a 40-year old woman in it), speaking about her recollections on the film, which she actually started shooting when she was only 11 years old!! The featurette also includes a very cool exclusive look at Portman's original screen-test for the part, as well as some background about how her parents actually allowed her to film such a movie at that young age (they had very specific requests from Besson, including one that would have her character quitting smoking during the movie...which she did!). Portman is a delight here and really gives you a sense of what it might've been like for such a young performer to be in a such a movie, at that time. She also seems very grateful for the opportunity, and when asked about the possibility of a MATHILDA sequel of sorts, was very open to it, in fact...she said she would be willing to do anything with Luc Besson again. Nice.
Fact Track: A lot like many other fact tracks, you can play this text-based track as you watch the movie. The text scrolls at the bottom of the screen, and is pretty consistent with lots of cool facts about the film (Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves were both considered for the part of LEON, at various points), as well as quirky stuff about New York and the film's shooting. I like stuff like this, so I enjoyed the full-length track.