Oldman Wants Portman
For me the mark of a really great movie is when it stands the test of time and it is as good if not better than when it first came out. As such there are many movies I thought great when I first watched them, sure that they would become classics yet when watched again years later I wondered why I loved them so much. One such movie which fits that criteria is Luc Besson's "Leon: The Professional" because I once thought it was great yet watching it again a decade after I last saw it I find myself almost mystified why. Oh Besson creates a wonderful looking movie, some of the action is a bit too contrived, but visually it is entertaining and both Jean Reno and Natalie Portman delivering brilliant performances but the whole set up not just that of a 12 year old girl training to be a hetman but the relationship which is formed with an older man is creepy.
When twelve year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman - Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium) returns home having gone out for groceries she sees her family all murdered with the corrupt drug dealing police lead by Stansfield (Gary Oldman - True Romance) searching their place. Fearing for her life she continues walking and goes to her neighbours apartment where loner Leon (Jean Reno - The Da Vinci Code) provides shelter despite initially reluctant to let her in. Upset not by the murder of her father, mother or sister but that of her brother Mathilda wants revenge and when she learns that Leon is a hit man persuades him to teach her how to become a "cleaner" like him. And as they spend time together a relationship forms between the naive Leon and the smart Mathilda, but with Stansfield after her it brings more conflict in to Leon's life as he strives to protect her.
In fairness the first 20 minutes or so of "Leon" is great from the sweeping shot down the street into Tony's restaurant to Leon returning home after the hit he's just done. It is great; it sucks you into what is going on and into the main characters of Leon and Mathilda. For a hetman Leon is quirky, on one hand he is silent and deadly yet you watch his light face up whilst in the cinema watching a musical. And then there is Mathilda, a loner thanks to her dysfunctional family who hit her both verbally and physically. And all of this comes to a wonderful scene where we watch a tearful Mathilda walk past her apartment door, seeing her murdered family on the floor and whilst trying to hide her sobbing knock on Leon's door with him unsure of whether to open it or not.
Trouble is that after that brilliant opening "Leon" starts to become a little uncomfortable on various levels. You have the relationship which forms between Leon and Mathilda as she flirts with him and then you have the fact although initially unwilling ends up training her to kill. Now I know Besson has infused this drama about the connection between what are basically two loners with plenty of dark humour but these two elements make for an uneasy movie. It doesn't matter how much style and humour that is on show you just can't get away from this fact, especially when you've seen the full version and not the edited version which many have only seen.
And it is a shame because get past this uneasy relationship of a slightly simple older man and street smart young girl and the styling is great. Okay so the action sequences border on fantasy as we watch Leon deal with many bad guys with relative ease, hiding in places where not making a noise is not realistic but the energy and impact of these bursts of violence are terrific. And the whole humour of Leon himself is great and Jean Reno gives such a great physical performance, a blend of looks and the way he moves which makes him strangely easy to like. And Besson knows this making most of a performance from Reno which would have been just as good if this had been a silent movie, it is that sort of physical performance.
Reno's performance is not the only good one and Natalie Portman reminded me of a young Jodie Foster in the way she plays Mathilda as a 12 year old girl who has experienced so much is one tough cookie. Okay the flirtation felt seriously creepy, and the fact she wants to kill is unsettling yet she does deliver the dark humour of certain moments quite brilliantly. And then there is Gary Oldman giving us yet another purposefully over the top and flamboyant character full of huge gestures, it's an unreal character but heck watching Oldman go sinisterly mad is entertaining to watch.
What this all boils down to is that there still is a lot to "Leon" which is good, the style, the dark humour and Jean Reno's performance still is brilliant. Yet the whole concept of not only a 12 year old wanting to kill but also her flirtatious relationships with Leon is unsettling especially when Leon is naive for a killer.