Release Date(s)1994 (October 27, 2015)
Studio(s)Gaumont/Columbia TriStar (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Léon (Jean Reno) is a simple man. He doesn’t read or write. He’s got few possessions. His only vice is watching Gene Kelly and John Wayne movies. But there’s one thing he does better than anyone else: He’s a cleaner. As in hitman. When it comes to killing, he’s the best hands down. It’s in this capacity that Léon works for Tony (Danny Aiello) in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood.
Tony is one of those guys in the neighborhood who gets things done, you know? You got a problem, you go to Tony. And when Tony’s got a problem, he goes to Léon. As it happens one day, after “cleaning” Tony’s latest problem, Léon meets 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman, in her first film appearance). She’s a latch-key kid, living with her white trash family in the apartment down the hall. He’s nice to her, and it makes an impression – nobody is ever nice to Mathilda. While she’s at the store one afternoon, her family is killed by a group of crooked D.E.A. agents led by the psychotic Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda returns while the agents are still there, quickly realizes what’s happening and pretends to be a neighbor, knocking terrified on Léon’s door instead. Against his better judgment, Léon opens the door to his apartment and, in that simple act, saves her life. But before long, he finds that he’s let her into his heart as well. What follows is an unlikely and touching Beauty and the Beast-style love story, albeit a somewhat innocent one and with a lot of bullets. Léon quickly realizes that the one thing Mathilda wants more than anything else is revenge, so he does the only thing he can... he teaches her to clean.
Léon: The Professional is damn close to a perfect film. It’s a spin-off of sorts from director Luc Besson’s previous La Femme Nikita, based on Jean Reno’s character in that film (Victor the Cleaner). Léon plays right into Besson’s strengths as a director and visual stylist – each killing, each action scene unfolds like a poetic dance. It is easily his best film, and it’s the role Reno will always be remembered for. He brings tremendous depth to a character that we end up learning very little about. It’s his nuances as an actor that flesh Léon out – we learn everything we need to from Reno’s simple gestures and facial expressions. Meanwhile, Oldman plays on-edge maniacs better than anyone in the business, which is perfect because that’s exactly what the pill-popping, on-the-edge Stansfield is. And it’s hard to find words to describe Portman’s performance. She simply steals the show. As if to ice the cake, composer Eric Serra provides the perfect musical score to accompany the visuals. How good is Léon? Just watch the introduction of Stansfield and his men as they appear to do their dirty work, slinking through the frame accompanied by music you’d expect to hear in a jungle film when a tiger is stalking its prey. Brilliant.
Sony’s new Cinema Series Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p HD video, mastered from a new 4K scan of the negative. It improves on the quality of their 2009 Blu-ray release – not by as much as the other recent Cinema Series titles, but it’s not insignificant either. Right off the bat, you can see that the image is less soft looking, with tighter and more refined detail. Colors are more accurate and a bit richer too. And while the black levels in the previous Blu-ray image were excellent, there was a tendency for the brightest areas of the picture to be a little blown out – not so here. Very light print grain is visible, but absolutely no digital filtering or DNR. This is an extremely natural-looking image.
The previous Blu-ray included 5.1 sound mixes in English, French and Portuguese in DTS-HD Master Audio format. The new Blu-ray includes a Dolby Atmos mix that’s 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible. As with The Fifth Element and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the new mix Atmos is slightly smoother, more lively and immersive than the older mixes, and just a bit more natural sounding, with excellent bass. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Like Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray, this Cinema Series edition includes both the U.S. theatrical and much-loved International versions of this film – you simply select which you wish to see when you start the film. All the same extras have carried over here as well, including the extended version trivia track, and 3 behind-the-scenes featurettes upconverted from SD (10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back, Jean Reno: The Road to Léon, and Natalie Portman: Starting Young). You also get a Digital Copy code and the film’s theatrical trailer which is in full HD – the latter was actually missing from the previous Blu-ray, so it’s a nice add. Missing from the last Sony DVD release of this film are the international ad campaign gallery and the isolated audio track (featuring Serra’s score), so be sure to keep that disc if you wish to retain them. Finally, you get the Cinema Series’ new “clear case” packaging, as well as a 24-page book of rare photos and liner notes. (The exact same Blu-ray Disc is also available in regular BD packaging for those who prefer it.)
If you haven’t seen Léon: The Professional yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Sony’s new Cinema Series Blu-ray delivers state-of-the-art A/V quality – notably improved from their previous Blu-ray edition – and adds a trailer too. For those who want the best version of this film available in 1080p, and who may not wish to wait for a future 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of the film, this disc is worth a look. And if you forgo the new packaging, it’s just $15 on Amazon. Not bad at all.
Film Rating (U.S./International): A/A+
- Bill Hunt