I used to work at a Blockbuster, part-time, solely for the free movies. I spent every penny I earned there on stuff from the store. The cool part was that while straightening up the aisles I could write down names of films, and then look them up in the system for the “Buy it Now” price. Combined with my discount, I was constantly able to grab harder-to-find films for really good prices. It also allowed me to expand my viewing habits, and embrace films I had missed out on. That’s how I ended up with a copy of Leon: The Professional, which I upgraded to the Best Buy Pop Art Edition Steelbook two years ago, and just now sat down to re-watch the film for only my second viewing.
Before hitting play, if you’d asked me to describe any moment from the film, I wouldn’t have been able to. I hadn’t seen it in over ten years, and, truthfully, the only thing I remembered about it was the fact that I loved it.
I picked the extended cut for this viewing, but I’m not sure which version I originally watched. My other goal for this viewing was to pay attention to the soundtrack because I’ve been wanting this gorgeous vinyl from Waxwork Records, but I want to be able to mentally justify buying it.
The movie started, and I instantly thought, “by God, I was wrong. How could I have loved this film?” I paused it, and turned the subtitles on because it was late, and my other half was asleep so I didn’t want to wake him.
As I sat there in silence, I told myself I needed to put my phone away – which is sadly harder than it should be – and watch the film for what it is. I needed to stop breaking down every scene, stop analyzing every angle, and just accept the fact that this is a film from the ’90s, and it’s not some big, awe-inducing Summer Blockbuster. If I sat there nitpicking every aspect, I’d be missing out on the whole reason I watch cinema: for entertainment.
So, I hit play again, and fell back in love with Leon: The Professional. Leon, the character, walks a very fine line of sexualizing a relationship between an adult man, and a thirteen-year-old girl. There are moments, especially in this extended cut, that show that side of the coin. Whether it is one-sided or not isn’t the point; it’s about the ideology of love. There are so many different types of love in the world, and sometimes, we as humans, confuse those different types. Leon seems to exist as a slower person. An immigrant, and not the sharpest tool in the shed, but only by the standards we set-up. He can’t read, but he has the ability to analyze and react to situations instantaneously.
There’s so much character development for our two leads. You care about them, even when Mathilda becomes a brat, which makes sense because she is only thirteen, and things have happened that have changed her life. All of this is possible because of the acting talent present in the film. Now I’m not a Natalie Portman fan, but she is fantastic here. It’s an emotionally charged performance, something most young actresses aren’t able to pull off. Jean Reno, whom I adore, just feels so genuine in the role of Leon. I’m curious to listen to the commentary as I hear he talks about the thought process of bringing Leon to life. Gary Oldman somehow overacts the hell out of his role, but makes it feel so natural at the same time. There are lots of little details and nuances the actors find, and the bathroom scene really stands out as a shining example of that.
Luc Besson is a great director. The Fifth Element, another Besson movie, is one of my favorite films. In Leon: The Professional, he’s able to deliver some fantastic action scenes that just work. Early on, Leon sneaks behind a man and makes him use the phone. The use of shadows in that scene are fantastic. There’s a big gun fight later in the film that is perfectly orchestrated, and the different cuts between the action and the slower moments work perfectly together.
Leon: The Professional definitely holds up more than ten years after my first viewing. Hopefully I won’t wait another ten to revisit it again. Either way, I’ll be curious to see if I remember anything specifically before that re-watch. I might love it, but it just might not have that “wow factor” that sears a scene into your brain forever.