Sure, like most people, not everything Luc Besson does, or has done, is perfect and in some cases not all of it you can even class as ‘good’. But, the awesome certainly out ways the bad. If I had one-eighth of the calibre of his back-catalogue I’d be a happy man: La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, District B13, Unleashed, Angel-A, Taken and, of course, Leon.
I have to assume you’ve seen Leon (known as Leon: The Professional in some regions because…I have no idea). If you haven’t seen Leon then seriously, WTF? The story, I will leave to Mathilda to tell you: “OK. My family got shot down by DEA officers, because of a drug problem. I left with the greatest guy on Earth. He was a hitman, the best in town, but he died this morning and if you don’t help me, I’ll be dead by tonight.”
Mathilda is played by Natalie Portman in her first feature film. As debuts go, it’s up there with the best and when you consider she was just 13-years-old, it’s off the scale good. Portman is amazing in Leon. Her performance won her the Best Actress in a Leading Role award at the 1994 ACCA’s and is thoroughly deserved.
She is as a smart-assed young girl trying to act much older (18). She smokes, you can imagine she drinks and she doesn’t go to school. There are touches of brilliance and she brings the humanity to Leon which otherwise would have been missing. There’s a scene where she dresses up and acts out various famous people (Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin and Gene Kelly) to Leon and it’s not just that her performance is stand-out, it’s also Leon’s reactions to it as well.
Leon is played by Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code, Ronin) who, as the milk drinking hitman, is perfect. His innocence when he’s not killing bad people is beautiful to watch and his interactions with Portman and his boss, played by Danny Aiello (The Godfather: Part II, The January Man), make you love the character, you route for the hitman. As the hitman, you get this wonderful approach, seldom seen these days, in that he just kills people. He doesn’t hang around, tell them a story, ask questions, just kills them.
Mathilda’s father, played by Michael Badalucco (O’Brother, Where Art Thou, The Practice), gets into some trouble with drugs which brings the villain of our story into play. I envy people who haven’t seen Leon as they get to witness one of the best villains on screen, not only that, but it’s one of the best introductions to a villain too.
Gary Oldman (Batman Dark Knight, Sid And Nancy) plays Stansfield, a cop who’s also a drug dealer. Oldman gives a standout performance; he menaces his way through, going berserk at times, creepy at others and darkly humoured throughout. Even small touches like the way he takes the drugs are a touch of genius. The ‘noon-showdown’ is a great example of all of the character’s traits in one scene; he goes berserk, he talks Beethoven, he loses his sh*t over his suit – it’s brilliant. This scene is completely improvised too, with each take Oldman apparently gave a different improvised story.
A special mention must go to Benny, played by Keith A. Glascoe, who is the cop standing outside Mathilda’s apartment when everyone else is inside. Glascoe would later became a member of the New York Fire Department in Hells Kitchen. He died at the World Trade Center towers when they were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
Luc Besson handles the writing and camera with aplomb. Apparently, he had the idea for Leon whilst shooting La Femme Nikita in which Reno played a cleaner of Nikita’s missions that hadn’t gone according to plan. Reno dresses the same in both movies and at various points he calls himself a cleaner and so does Mathilda.
The ending of Leon sets things up nicely for a sequel but one has never occurred. Rumours are that Besson has wrote a sequel and was waiting for Portman to be a little older before progressing. However, in between that time, Besson started his own production company, EuropaCorp, which didn’t sit well with Gaumont Film Company (who released Leon) who now won’t release it. Besson did, apparently, use the idea for his 2011 film Columbiana.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about a sequel. On the one hand, I’d love to see it but on the other, I think of films like Prometheus and the Terminator franchise and think; please don’t ruin it.
For me, Leon is one of my all-time favourite films. There are stunning performances from Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and the debut of all debuts from Natalie Portman. It has action, emotion, laughter and some fantastic lines. OK.