Léon: The Professional is a 1994 film by Luc Besson, who would later become most famous for his movie The Fifth Element. It tells the story of a young girl (12 from most accounts) who trough a series of events is reluctantly taken in by a hitman called Léon. The pair (not sure I want to use the word couple) then are beset down a path that neither of them can seem to veer off of, down a road of revenge, love, family, and many other themes as they both grow and foster a real relationship.
The title character here Léon is played by Jean Reno, and it will probably always remain one of, if not his most recognizable performance. Reno does a lot to add to the character here in his portrayal, and he does so in some interesting ways. The tricky nature of the relationship that develops between his and Natalie Portmans’ character could easily go down certain roads if not for his performance here. He gives Léon an almost autistic (or at least on the spectrum) bend to his behavior and development up to the point at which the film begins, and this keeps his character and his intentions pure and they come across as totally sincere and genuine. This character without such a layer could easily be seen as the one in charge of the situation at all times, and as such, take away from development that they both need. It would also make him come of as much more predatory than his character actually is and should be.
This movie was also truly a defining and break out role for the young Natalie Portman. She is charged with bringing the character of Matilda to life, but she really does deliver an amazing performance here. She gives Mathilda a genuine feeling of being grown up way beyond her years, while also maintaining the innocence (or what’s left of it) and ignorance of someone so young and so new to the world. This is juxtaposed extremely well against the sometimes “man-childless” of Reno’s Léon, and as expressed in the movie they are almost opposites of each other in many ways. The role also calls for some really tense scenes between the two, in which you see how easily control over the situation can swash back and forth between the grown but child like Léon and the young but way too grown Mathilda. and this is a fine line to walk, one in which the film tries to stay on, and avoid having to really push it to one side or the other. Portmans’ portrayal here is so grounded and honest, and she gives more than I even think the character originally asked for.
Léon ultimately is a story about love, in the midst of an action movie that never seems short on either. I think it does a great job at asking some questions of the audience, but in a manner that seems both plausible and palatable. It is full of Luc Besson trademark style of action, while also being grounded with really layered and impressive performances but the co-leads here who play really well off each other and add what I truly think is the special sauce in what otherwise would have been a regular action movie without it. Have you seen Léon? What’s you’re opinion on it? The up coming Valerian movie made me want to take a look back at some of Besson’s work, and I think Léon is one of his best.