Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/16/00
Version - 1994 (2000) - Gaumont/Columbia (Columbia
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D
Specs and Features
133 mins, UR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:13:19 in chapter
20), Amaray keep case packaging, 3 theatrical trailers (Léon,
The Big Blue and The
Messenger), isolated score, talent files, international
art gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene
access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0),
subtitles: English, French, Spanish & Portuguese, Closed
Léon is a
simple man. He doesn't read and he doesn't write. He's got few
possessions other than a potted plant and a pair of briefcases full
of his tools. He doesn't smoke and he doesn't drink... unless you
count a glass of milk every day. 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 assassin. Hitman. When it
comes to killing, nobody does it better. Léon (a perfectly
cast Jean Reno) works for Tony (Danny Aiello) in New York's Little
Italy. Tony is one of those guys in the neighborhood who gets things
done, you know what I mean? You got a problem, you go to Tony. And
when things get ugly, Tony goes to Léon.
One day, after delivering a "serious" message to a would
be crimelord, Léon returns home and meets 12-year-old
Mathilda (the amazing 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 from Léon. He's nice to
her, and it makes an impression - nobody is ever nice to Mathilda.
The next day, she offers to run to the store for him to buy his
usual two quarts of milk. While she's gone, her family is killed by
a group of crooked DEA agents, led by the psychotic Stansfield (Gary
Oldman). It seems her father held coke (and I don't mean the capital
"C" variety) for Stansfield, but he's been cutting into
the stash for himself. Mathilda walks right into the middle of the
aftermath, quickly realizes what's happening and pretends to be a
neighbor, knocking terrified on Léon's door instead. Saving
Mathilda goes against every shred of better judgement he has, but
one of his first rules of killing is "No women, no children,"
so he can't just let her die. Léon does indeed open the door
to his apartment to save her. And before long, he finds that she's
opened the door to his heart as well. What follows is an unlikely
and touchingBeauty and the Beast-style
love story, albeit an innocent one. For while Léon grows to
love Mathilda, he doesn't LOVE her - he's not that kind of guy. But
the one thing Mathilda wants more than anything else is revenge, so
Léon does the only thing he can... he teaches her to clean.
For what it is and what it sets out to be, Léon:
The Professional is as close to perfect as any film I've
ever seen. It is easily director Luc Besson's best film, and it's
the role Jean Reno will always be remembered in. The film plays
right into Besson's strength's as a director and visual stylist -
each killing, each action scene unfolds like a poetic dance. The
film's casting is simply outstanding. Reno is amazing as Léon,
bringing tremendous depth to a character that you 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. Gary Oldman plays a fucking nut 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.
I'll let you see for yourself. Once again, composer Eric Serra
provides the perfect musical score to accompany the visuals. How
good is this movie? Just watch the first scene in chapter 5, as
Stansfield's men arrive to do their dirty work, slinking through the
frame accompanied by music you'd expect to hear in a jungle film
when the tiger's stalking its prey. Amazing.
The Professional has been
available on DVD for some time from Columbia TriStar, but for the
first time here we're treated to the 24-minute longer, international
cut of the film (aka Léon: The
Professional). If I loved this film before, I love the
longer cut even more. The extra footage includes more character
development for Léon (we find out WHY he's a cleaner), much
more of Mathilda's training and more of their developing
relationship. Sadly, as with The Big Blue,
Besson declined to make special edition materials available to
Columbia TriStar for inclusion on this disc. But the film is
presented in full anamorphic widescreen, sporting a new digital,
high-def transfer. The print is of significantly better quality than
was used for The Big Blue,
resulting in better looking video. It isn't quite reference quality,
but the color and contrast are very good overall. There's good
detail and shadow delineation and very little artifacting. I'm very
happy with this picture.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is good, but it's a different sounding
mix that what was released on the earlier DVD version of The
Professional. Most of this film is driven by dialogue,
which is clear and clean here. But when the guns start blazing,
you'll hear every shot rip through the air accompanied by hammering
bass. The soundstage is nicely wide. The play in the rear speakers
is subtle here but it's there, and I actually like it - this is a
very atmospheric mix. Here's where it differs from the earlier DVD
release, however - the rear channels were much more active on that
disc than they are here. My understanding is that the audio source
material was different for these two versions of the film, and so
it's not a technical problem. I suspect whether you like it or not
will be a personal preference. In any case, as with The
Big Blue, Serra's score is well presented in the mix, and
is also available isolated from the rest of the film audio. An
English 2.0 track is also included.
Serra's score is about the only really substantial extra here,
although you do get trailers for this film, The
Big Blue and The Messenger,
a small talent file section (with "selected"
filmographies) and a gallery of 11 stills featuring international
poster artwork. The menus are animated with music, but the "explosion"
wipes are a little much. Would I have liked a commentary? Sure.
Interviews with Reno, Oldman and Portman? Sure. But they're not here
and I'm not going to waste my energy complaining about that.
Columbia did the best they could in a difficult situation and the
film more than makes up for it.
I just love these calm little moments before the storm. And I
really love this film. Léon
is absolutely the better version of The
Professional, and if you haven't seen it, you don't know
what you're missing. Even if you already have the earlier disc -
especially if you already have the earlier disc - you MUST buy Léon.
I think you'll really appreciate the difference.