The hitman and her…
A lone hitman reluctantly takes on a new much younger accomplice, a 12-year-old girl who is out for revenge for her 4-year-old brother’s murder.
LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) | Full Movie Trailer in Full HD | 1080p, MOVIE PREDICTOR and photos © Gaumont Buena Vista International
Picture the scene, your wee 11-year-old daughter wants to get in the movies. A movie script for Leon / The Professional (1994) is sent to her and she reads it and is keen to do it. It would mean her debut film working with Luc Besson on an adult-themed movie. This movie is about a hitman who befriends and ultimately takes responsibility for a young girl.
This however after her family is gunned down by a corrupt and unstable cop and his work buddies. The character Mathilda – who your daughter hopes to play – smokes, curses and eventually believes she’s in love with this hitman. She hopes the hitman to take her on as his protegee.
She hopes to seek revenge on the culprits behind her wee four year old brother’s murder. So your daughter goes for the movie audition and doesn’t get the role but it’s only later she gets a call back for the role.. she was that good. It seems, there are just a few things you need to negotiate with the writer-director…
This is the story behind our leading lady’s casting and the film premise of the movie Leon. Leon is the title as it’s known in the UK and as The Professional in the States. This film is an explosive film debut for a wee 11-year-old Natalie Portman in the leading lady role of Mathilda. Leon is an unconventional buddy movie at its best.
However, I can’t stress enough that this film is for adults, with adult themes. This review is of the uncut and European version of the film with several differences from the earlier American film. The idea for Leon came into the French director’s head as he filmed La Femme Nikita (1990), this film telling of a criminal who becomes an assassin.
In this latter movie, after a failed assassination attempt by a female protagonist Nikita, another hit man or “cleaner” arrives to complete the assignment. This character Victor – was played by Jean Reno – wearing a beanie, long coat and shades and clutching an ominous-looking case – quickly dispatches the target and his buddies.
Besson felt this “cleaner” deserved a movie of his own and wrote the Leon script casting the same actor in this film’s leading and titular role. This character was then paired up with Portman’s Mathilda, as fate brings them together.
After a wee briefing for his latest assignment from Leon’s “employer,” Italian head honcho Tony (Danny Aiello), Leon goes to “work”. At “work”, hitman Leon (Reno) has the stealth and cunning of a ninja and he gets the job done quickly, meticulously and efficiently.
Leon’s got a similar fashion sense to Victor and like Bruce Wayne in The Batman Lego Movie (2017) he works alone. Leon lives a solitary life in his New York apartment, spending his spare time exercising, watching Gene Kelly’s musicals and caring for his best friend, his potted plant. He sleeps in an armchair gun at the ready.
12-year-old Mathilda (Portman) lives with her blended family just up the hall from Leon. She’s not close to her father (Michael Badalucco) and his wife, Mathilda’s stepmother (Ellen Greene). Her father and her older stepsister (Elizabeth Regen) hit Mathilda, with Mathilda only close to her affectionate four-year-old brother (Carl J Matusovich).
Mathilda was attending a school for troubled girls but left the school two weeks ago. The school believe she’s dead. This is after the school spoke to Mathilda and she pretended to be her stepmother. Her father has been “looking after” some drugs for a bad cop Stansfield (Gary Oldman) and his cronies.
They’ve recently noted the purity of this drug has been decreasing, with Stansfield giving him an ultimatum to find out about its whereabouts. Then threatening him they’ll return the next day at midday…
So just before noon – as fate would have it – wee Mathilda is sent to the shops. On her way, she offers to get Leon some milk (his favourite drink). She’s in the shop as these men return and Mathilda comes home to a blood bath. With all her family murdered – by the Beethoven loving but unhinged Standish – and this including her wee brother.
The gunfire is heard by Leon seeing events through his peephole, he grabs a gun. On her return wee Mathilda sees her father dead and covered in the blood through the open door. This 12-year-old girl instinctively keeps walking on to Leon’s place and presses the doorbell, crying and hoping he’ll let her into safety. After some time, he lets her in.
Mathilda’s arrival leads to an odd – yet always platonic – rapport between these two loners. Leon shows a caring side immediately by introducing her to his pet pig, using an oven glove and adding additional pig sounds. This gets her talking and laughing in a lovely heartwarming scene. However in dark contrast, after she asks if he can look after her he contemplates killing her as she sleeps.
The next day, she learns his profession, and to his surprise, she’s accepting rather than horrified. Mathilda asks him to do an “assignment” for her and asks him to find and kill those who killed her wee brother, with her seemingly less unhappy about the deaths of the others.
She’s even willing to pay as she offers to do his housework and to teach him how to read. These chores as payments in exchange for him taking her on as a trainee assassin. Mathilda threatens to shoot herself playing Russian roulette if he doesn’t take her on. This scene appears only in the uncut version.
I did enjoy revisiting this controversial film but found some of the added cut scenes now disturbing and on the whole, seemed unnecessary. It is reported these are in the International and European versions only. These scenes were more of a violent and implied sexual nature, and I can fully understand why these may have been cut from the United States film.
These scenes include Mathilda asking Leon if he will have sexual intercourse with her (he doesn’t) and her Russian roulette threat if he won’t allow her to be a protegee. Leon thankfully doesn’t reciprocate her feelings and jokes about his awkwardness around her “romantic” feelings. This part of the storyline is commented on in Imdb which states,
According to Jean Reno, he decided to play Leon as if he were “a little mentally slow” and emotionally repressed. He felt that this would make audiences relax and realize that he wasn’t someone who would take advantage of a vulnerable young girl.
It’s added that Reno “allowed Portman to be emotionally in control of the scenes”. This is excellently portrayed in Reno’s performance which in no way suggests his character as having sexual feelings towards Mathilda. I felt that Reno showed his character as more of the father figure – this young girl sorely needed – with him more caring, protective and supportive of her in this paternal role. A scene where he reprimands his young charge for smoking, cursing and talking to a boy who looks like a “weirdo” is a perfect example of this.
I did however enjoy their symbiotic relationship, with him teaching her how to use a gun, and her teaching him how to read. These both led to some fabulously constructed montages with this film pair. There were many lovely heartwarming scenes, where they laughed together. This was seen at its best in a game of charades with the pair impersonating well known famous names. Young Portman’s impression of Charlie Chaplin and Reno’s of John Wayne were fun additions to this comic montage.
A further montage with the pair having a water fight seemed naturalistic in manner, and you felt their growing affection towards each other in these scenes. This montage is one of many, showing their relationship was not a romantic affair or ever could be. Their closeness and strong rapport showed and felt.
I believe that possibly the young Mathilda confused her affections for this father figure as being “romantic love” rather than the love you have for a good friend. This as in her young life she’d not yet experienced a strong friendship as she had only been close to her young brother before this.
Gary Oldman gave one of his best over the top, unhinged and unpredictable performances which were unnerving for both this reviewer and reportedly also for his co-stars. With his unscripted monologue praising Beethoven, and his odd, intimidating and twitchy behaviours he made a convincing villain (and future meme).
Aiello made his small role as Tony an enigmatic and supportive one. In turn, his character seemed paternalistic towards Leon (and later, Mathilda). Tony also was in control of his friend’s money. It was clear he had a rapport with Leon and he was protective of him in later scenes.
After rewatching this cast in this film, I’m surprised that Natalie Portman and this film were overlooked in those Oscar nominations for that year. Although, this film was given the praise it deserved in France, where it was nominated for seven Cesar Awards. These nominations include Best Montage, Best Cinematography and Best Actor for Jean Reno (with Portman shockingly not getting a mention). Besson was nominated for Best Film and Best Director.
However, Natalie Portman was fantastic in all her scenes with one of those unforgettable performances from a child star. In her role she made her character go through many different emotions in a credible manner. She was convincingly funny, distraught and vulnerable as the script desired.
As we know now, after this film the young Natalie went on to bigger things with her now an Oscar-winning actress. But it’s here in her debut role as a young 12-year-old assassin padawan, a wee Natalie Portman proved herself as an acting force to be reckoned with.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Vive La France Blogathon 2019 No 78
This review was added to the Vive La France Blogathon run by Eve’s Reel Life and Silver Screen Modes. Other film reviews on this site with this cast include Natalie Portman in Closer, Thor, Your Highness and Black Swan. Danny Aiello starred in Moonstruck. Gary Oldman appeared in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.