Luc Besson (director)
11 November 2019 (released)
13 November 2019
New York 1994: It was a time when the Twin Towers still stood proudly and when French film director Luc Besson made his much applauded thriller LEON in the Big Apple, starring the incompatible Jean Reno in the title role and a young Natalie Portman in her movie debut. Now this cult thriller can be enjoyed once more thanks to a brand-new 4K restoration and with enticing Extras.
Picking up (well, sort of) from where he left off in Besson’s 1990’s cult smash NIKITA (in which he played ruthless hitman Victor), here Jean Reno plays ruthless hitman Léon Montana - living a quiet and solitary life in New York’s Little Italy district when not operating as a ‘cleaner’. In his spare time (of which he seems to have plenty) he loves going to the cinema watching old movies, in particular musicals starring Gene Kelly. He’s also attached – wait for it – to his precious houseplant and spends hours looking after it. This tells us that deep-down Léon must have a heart, not just one that beats but one that feels. Enter 12-year old Mathilda Lando (Natalie Portman), a school-drop-out living down the corridor from Léon’s apartment with her highly dysfunctional family the girl doesn’t really care about. Only her four-year old brother is an exception and Mathilda feels protective towards him. Léon can’t help but noticing that the girl’s face seems bruised, a result of her abusive father (Michael Badalucco) who got mixed up with corrupt DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents who paid him generously to hide away cocaine in his place. The DEA is led by pill-popping psychopath Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman clearly having a field day!) though Mathilda’s father is no lesser rat, stupidly cutting the cocaine to keep some for his own jollies. Whaddya know, it doesn’t take Stansfield long to, er, smell a rat! One day, while Mathilda is out shopping, he and his cronies raid the apartment and mercilessly kill the entire Lando family including the little boy. When Mathilda returns she immediately senses the danger and instinctively pretends to be Léon’s daughter, frantically knocking at his door in the hope he may open. Léon, who had witnessed what’s been happening through a keyhole, initially hesitates but then lets Mathilda into his flat, thus saving her life.
Although Léon clearly doesn’t know what to do with the girl (he even considers killing her) he can’t bring himself to chuck her out on the street. After much begging and pleading Mathilda finally persuades him to let her stay in exchange for domestic help, however, after she discovers the true nature of his profession she insists he teaches her to become a ‘cleaner’ too… so she can avenge the brutal death of her little brother. Meanwhile, Stansfield and the others have become aware of the fact that one member of the murdered Lando family had somehow managed to escape the massacre and now Mathilda must be found before she can talk… but the corrupt agents didn’t count on Léon and his experience as a seasoned killer. As the situation becomes ever more dangerous, the friendship between Mathilda and Léon grows stronger though by know the girl has a serious crush on him - much to his constant irritation. During one hilarious scene (both Mathilda and Léon are now staying in a hotel) she lies to the hotel porter that Léon is not her father but her lover. Both find themselves on the street the next morning. Finally sensing that he might not win the battle against Stansfield and his men, Léon visits his Mafioso boss Tony (Danny Aiello) and instructs him to give all his money to Mathilda in the case of his death. Then the final showdown between Léon and Stansfield unfolds…
As can be expected from Jean Reno, he delivers both a compelling yet nuanced performance as a focused hitman caught up between ice-cold agenda and emotions for his little protégée although the true star of this movie is Natalie Portman. Indeed, who would believe this was her very first role? If anything, she comes across as if she’s been acting all her life – a natural talent if ever there was one. The film further benefits from Thierry Arbogast’s signature cinematography and Sylvie Landra’s sharp and skilful editing.
(Available DVD, Blu-ray, 4K UHD and Est.)