Movie Review: Leon: The Professional

Hey everyone. Some quick updates before I get started.

1) I’m aiming for 100 movie reviews for the third year of WordsofWisTIM. 52 weeks in a year, so I’m aiming for two reviews a week.

2) Round 2 of Winners And Losers (WAL) will be out by Wednesday.

Leon: The Professional has gotten some high marks from some of my blogging buddies and is another one of the films that has been sitting on my desk waiting to be watched. It came out on Netflix two weeks ago so I guess I didn’t need to buy it after all, but alas, the sacrifices of a critic.

This isn’t the first time that Luc Besson has been involved in a film I’ve reviewed here and it won’t be the last. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Luc Besson is the best thing to come out of France in the last 50 years. He’s a straight shot most times but his targets do sway to the side of what I’d like them to be sometimes and that was the case with Leon: The Professional.

Leon (Jean Reno) is a simple man. He buys two quarts of milk each day, takes precious care of his plant and has few material possessions. In fact, I’d say his life is boring. However, Leon is an expert cleaner and by that I mean fixing messes, the messes that are best cleaned with bullets. He’s very orderly and professional, but outside of work we never see him do much. He goes to a theater and gets some fun out of a movie, but aside from that, cleaning his plant and exercising in the morning, he doesn’t seem to have much of a lifestyle.

Leon is almost childlike in some respects. We never see him drink anything but milk over the course of this movie and while it’s probably for the sake of fitness, I want to believe there’s a deeper meaning there. Leon doesn’t know how to read, doesn’t own much and never has any money, instead letting his employer hold onto all of it and asking for it as he needs it. He continues to bounce between small apartments and hotel rooms, never owning a place of his own and he remains sheltered in terms of what life has to offer.

As I’ve seen plenty of times before, when Natalie Portman enters your life, things get a lot messier and Leon’s tale is no different. In her motion picture debut, Portman stars as 12-year-old Mathilda. Her whole family is murdered by a corrupt DEA agent while she’s out shopping and with as much composure as she can hold onto, walks past the corpses of her family to knock on Leon’s door and after a long mental argument the audience is not privy to, Leon finally lets her in.

Mathilda discovers Leon’s work rather easily and wants in. She wants to learn how to clean and Leon, who can’t find it in himself to throw her out of his life, comes around to the idea.

As the story progresses, Leon and Mathilda form a friend-to-friend, parent-child relationship. Leon gets protective and Mathilda begins to look at him as a role model and maybe even something more.

Leon has never had a real friend aside from the boss that continually employs him and has never had a relationship like the one he has with Mathilda. At times, he is unsure of what to do, something a professional assassin is not used to because assassins that don’t know what to do in crucial situations end up dead.

The character originality of Leon and Mathilda is worth applauding but holds little depth. It reminds me of a children’s book, like an older bear taking care of a stray rabbit. Leon’s quaint life was begging for more audience discovery, to really uncover what has made Leon click for all these years and what new sound he’s discovered with Mathilda but Mathilda’s vengeance escapade takes center stage sadly. The need for revenge needed to be there, but if the run time had been expanded, it could have been pushed to the wayside for a little so we could further unearth these one-of-a-kind characters. Leon’s simplicity is more complex than people will give it credit and Mathilda’s strength and desire to become a full-functioning weapon is admirable, but she can’t hold it together and Leon is right when he says at the beginning of the movie, “I don’t think you’d be able to go through with it.” Portman can scream and stomp in front of the lens all she wants, but it’s evident that Mathilda still has a heart. I was practically begging for Besson to change the character midway, but again, his aim swayed to the side of my target.

Had Mathilda been a darker shade, suddenly the themes of childhood innocence, enabling and guilt are thrown onto the court. Leon and Mathilda would have still had the unique companionship we see here, only Leon would be helpless to clean Mathilda of the darkness growing inside of her. It was an angle I think could have worked.

Instead, Leon: The Professional remains a family appropriate film and takes a rain check on becoming a more impressive, long-lasting film.

I also must give another clap on the back to Gary Oldman. As corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield, Oldman’s civilized barbarism is gripping and that look in his eyes when he gives a stare at the camera is a “No one’s getting out of their chairs” type of look. One of my Hollywood truths: there’s no such thing as too much Gary Oldman and man, Besson’s work needed more Gary Oldman. The short shots are performed great by Oldman but really diminish the heights the character could have reached had he been given the chance to let the character’s lunacy unhinge from the wall.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Avengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellarChappie)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (EnemySleeping with the EnemyEquilibriumDead Snow: Red vs. DeadSnowpiercer)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Black SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe Raven)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Mad Max: Fury RoadBlitzThe PunisherDrive HardRun All Night)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (CrankErasedI, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleThe GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark World)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (OutcastSabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafe)

My score for Leon: The Professional: 75.

With the majority of its action hidden, which is a rare sell from Besson, Leon: The Professional rests on the acting trio of Reno, Portman and Oldman. All perform well, Oldman the best of the bunch despite the limits put on him, but the relationship between Leon and Mathilda could have gone further. I know it could have and that coupled with unseen action, keeps it an average film. Rather than Besson’s usual action-obsessed animal, Leon: The Professional is a drama about how a man who could only find death finally found life.

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