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Luc Besson
Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello
Writing Credits:
Luc Besson

A perfect assassin. An innocent girl. They have nothing left to lose except each other.

Calling himself a "cleaner," the mysterious Leon is New York's top hitman. When his next-door neighbors are murdered, Leon becomes the unwilling guardian of the family's sole survivor - 12-year-old Mathilda. But Mathilda doesn't just want protection; she wants revenge. Training her in the deadly tricks of his trade, Leon helps her track the psychotic agent who murdered her family. From the electrifying opening to the fatal finale, Leon, is a non-stop crescendo of action, suspense and surprises. This uncut version contains 24 minutes of extra footage deemed too explicit for the American audience.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$19.251 million.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 10/3/2000

• Isolated Music Score
• International Ad Campaign
• Trailers
• Talent Files
• Production Notes

Search Titles:

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Leon: The Professional (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 28, 2003)

That Jean Reno is one rockin' frog! If more French were like him, we wouldn't have needed to save their snail-eating butts in World War II. (Okay, the truth is that Reno isn't actually French, though he's spent most of his life there. Still, I liked the intro, so I went with it.)

We witness Reno in all his vicious killer glory in Leon, Luc Besson's 1994 story of the titular hitman (Reno) who takes on Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a young female apprentice whose family has been brutally murdered. As the plot progresses, the two develop a strong bond and affection for each other as they create their own little dysfunctional family.

Leon had the potential to be horribly sappy, and it treads on thin ice at times. There are some unnecessarily cutesy scenes, like when Mathilda plays dress-up and imitates celebrities for Leon, or when they have a water fight in the apartment. Yeah, I suppose there was a need to leaven the film's darkness with a little levity, but these segments were simply annoying, and they risked fracturing the mood of the piece.

Make no mistake: Leon is a rough film, and I'm surprised it never churned up more controversy. Or maybe it did, but 1994 wasn't that long ago, and I don't remember any extreme angst surrounding it. A pubescent girl being trained as an assassin has to have raised some hackles.

Whatever controversy may have existed would have been worse if this edition had made US screens. This DVD presents the "uncut international version" which runs 24 minutes longer than the US one did. (In the US, Leon was called The Professional, which leads to this DVD's awkward title of Leon The Professional, but I'll be damned if I'm going to refer to it by that silly name.) Although I saw The Professional theatrically, I don't remember it well enough to verify the additions myself, but a trip to IMDB confirmed that the parts I thought were new indeed didn't appear in 1994. Virtually all of the scenes that were omitted in the US featured either the sexual aspect of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda, or showed her in some socially inappropriate manner (participating in missions, drunk, using a gun). Not all of the rougher stuff involving Mathilda was excised from the US version, but much of it was.

Because it's been so long since I last saw the film, I can't honestly say if Leon works significantly better than The Professional, but I suspect the additions do improve the story. They add a dimension to the awkwardness of the situation that otherwise wouldn't exist. The film would be harsh nonetheless, since the seedy premise remains, but the added footage makes the picture grittier and more real.

In any case, I thought it was a terrific film. Leon provides a little something for almost everyone, as there's enough pure action for fans of that genre but the violence takes on a suitable nastiness that makes it palatable for folks who prefer fare that's darker than the cartoony shoot-em-ups that dominate screens; in the way it depicts the humanity of a hit man, Leon isn't dissimilar from its era-mate Pulp Fiction, though the latter's a lot more glib.

At times director Luc Besson has been accused of favoring style over substance; his last two films - The Messenger and The Fifth Element certainly have legions of detractors - but I honestly disagree. Yes, his movies portray a high level of visual flair that works wonderfully within them, but they also provide the goods, as it were, and Leon may be Besson's best example of that trait. Certainly the movie looks terrific, but it possesses a strong emotional and dramatic backbone as well. It's one of the more affecting "action flicks" I've seen.

It helps that our two leads are absolutely terrific. Reno beautifully plays the gruffness and isolation of Leon and makes him into a much better developed character than was scripted; he adds a life to the role that certainly wouldn't have existed on the printed page. To look at him, you wouldn't think the guy's a tremendous badass, but he makes his hitman persona as convincing - or more so - than any stereotypical action hero could do.

Also terrific is Portman in her first film role. Anyone expecting the leggy lovely she's become will be disappointed, as Portman's a bony and awkward 12-year-old here who shows few traces of the babe to be. She does display an enormous amount of talent, however, as she turns Mathilda into a very realistic-seeming kid. She never resorts to usual child-actor ploys like cuteness or excessive weepiness; she keeps her personality well modulated and appears very believable. This has to have been a tough part, but she pulls it off with aplomb.

Surprisingly, the only dud in the film is Gary Oldman. I really quite fond of his work, as Oldman's one of the most adaptable actors around today, but he becomes a complete ham as corrupt DEA agent Stansfield. Honestly, his performance can be painful to watch as he overplays virtually every scene in which he appears. He used a cartoony presence to much better effect in The Fifth Element, but that movie had a comic book feel to it that doesn't occur in Leon. As it stands, Oldman's extremely broad performance seems out of place.

Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt the movie to a significant degree, as Leon remains a superb piece of work. It's a dramatic, exciting and emotionally moving action film that manages to avoid the pitfalls common amongst a variety of genres. It's not for easily upset viewers, but others should find it very compelling.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

Leon The Professional appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.

The main issues revolved around edge enhancement. Far too much of the movie suffered from that distraction. Many shots displayed surprisingly prominent haloes, and these led to other issues. Most of the time, the image stayed reasonably concise and distinct, but due to the edge enhancement, more than a few examples of soft shots occurred. No problems connected to jagged edges popped up, but I saw some shimmering at times, mostly caused by a striped shirt worn by Natalie Portman in chapter 20.

Print flaws caused the other problems during Leon. These never became heavy, and they dissipated somewhat as the movie progressed, but they still caused more issues than I expected from such a modern flick. I saw occasional examples of specks and grit plus the occasional blotch, streak, or nick.

Colors presented the transfer’s strongest elements. The tones came across as nicely vibrant and dynamic throughout the movie. No signs of bleeding, noise, or other concerns appeared, and the hues consistently seemed vivid and well defined. Black levels also looked deep and dense, but shadows were slightly problematic at times. Some low-light shots were a bit opaque and seemed murkier than I’d like.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack seemed pretty good but not without problems. The forward soundfield appeared pretty well defined, with a consistently good localizing and a reasonably high activity level. The surrounds kicked in with some loud but somewhat ill defined audio during much of the film. I felt that the amount of audio from the rear was appropriate but that the mix appeared slightly mushy at times. Most of the surround usage seemed monaural; I detected a few examples of stereo sound in the rears, but not many. Ultimately I found the soundfield to be a little more broad and indistinct than it should appear.

Overall, the quality of the audio was fairly good. Dialogue occasionally sounded somewhat rough, which affected the intelligibility of a few lines, but it generally appeared natural and crisp. Effects were very clean and realistic, and they presented with adequate bass when appropriate, although I felt the low end occasionally appeared too muddy and indistinct. Music sounded clear and smooth, and the score also showed very nice dynamic range, with some fairly deep low end throughout the film. Overall, I thought the interactivity of the mix seemed fairly good but the resulting audio could be somewhat muddled at times. Nonetheless, it merits a solid "B" for audio.

Just like Woody Allen, Luc Besson has gone on record as indicating that he's not a fan of supplemental features. Hey, more power to you, Frenchy, but unfortunately that aversion will mean that no matter how much I like Besson's movies, they'll never be among the best DVDs.

In any case, we find a smattering of extras here. The most significant is Eric Serra's isolated score, which is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. As I've mentioned in other reviews, I'm not a big fan of movie music, so this added feature does little for me. However, since I know many others really like these tracks, I think they're a terrific bonus.

The other extras are more mediocre. We get the usual less-than-informative talent files; entries for three of the actors and Besson appear, and they provide very little data. The International Ad Campaign simply gives us 11 stillframe screens; each displays a different poster for Leon. Finally, we find three trailers - for Leon plus fellow Besson efforts The Messenger and The Big Blue plus the DVD's booklet includes some brief but interesting production notes.

Although the lack of significant extras keeps Leon from the ranks of the great DVDs, it possesses the most important component: a terrific movie. The film effectively combines hard-hitting action with moving drama to create an indelible piece of work that seems very effective. The picture looks erratic but usually appears good, and the audio appeared reasonably involving and strong. Even without substantial supplements, Leon is a winner, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7363 Stars Number of Votes: 292
4 3:
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