Monday, March 28, 2016

Movie #352: Leon: The Professional

Leon: The Professional is an action/drama directed by Luc Besson and starring Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, and Danny Aiello.

Leon (Reno) is a hitman, or "cleaner," as he calls himself, living in New York and doing jobs for Tony (Aiello). While Leon is cool and professional, and damn good at his job, the relationship between him and Tony is oddly one-sided. Tony holds his money, Leon never spends anything, and his life is fairly bland - he trains, he takes care of his plant, and...that's basically it.

Leon lives down the hall from Mathilda (Portman) and her unpleasant family. Her father (Michael Badalucco) is in deep with some corrupt DEA agents, led by speed freak and psychopath Stansfield (Oldman). One day the agents roll in and slaughter her family while she's getting groceries, and thinking quickly, she goes to Leon's door. Mathilda wants revenge for her little brother (she doesn't much care about the rest of them), and begs Leon to teach her his trade.

Now, the synopses of the movie generally say that they wind up having "an unusual relationship", which is both true and a huge fucking understatement. Leon doesn't really want a protege, and certainly not a child; he actually holds his gun to her head the first night she stays there, obviously figuring it would easy to dispose of her. But he grows fond of her and teaches her how to snipe and how to handle guns. He even takes her along on assignments; he does the actual killing, but she participates. So far, so good.

But Mathilda repeatedly tells Leon she loves him, and the "love" in question wavers between familial and really not. At one point in the extended version, she flat-out asks him to have sex with her, and he refuses. The whole thing is bloody uncomfortable, and there's just no way around that. Now, digging past that discomfort, we can realize that Leon is pretty emotionally stunted himself; he can't read, he's never really gotten past his first girlfriend's murder, and he's learning from Mathilda as much as she is from him. At the same time, Mathilda is pretty obviously traumatized - she was abused even before her family died - and she's coping and trying desperately to keep hold of Leon. The whole thing is fucked up.

In the midst of all this is Oldman, playing the coked-out, over the top bad guy. It's good that he's not in the movie any more than he is; his character is so intense and so creepy that he ratchets up the tension when he's there, but it'd be easy for that shock to wear off. He gets a nice sendoff at the end, his death is satisfying, even if it's not Mathilda that kills him.

Leon is a pretty fundamentally amoral movie. The star is a contract killer who may or may not be in love with a 12-year-old girl. Said 12-year-old seems perfectly capable of committing cold-blooded murder. The movie is bleak and kind of nihilistic, but at the same time, the characters in it all want something else out of life; Stansfield notes this when he says he takes no pleasure in killing people who don't care if they live.

It's well worth watching, but if the relationship between Leon and Mathilda as I've described it squicks you out too much, stick to the theatrical version.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Les Miserables