#27: Leon: The Professional (1994)

When and how did I watch this?

April 12th, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

It’s not a movie I was familiar with, but the title piqued my interest years before venturing down the list.

What do I know about it now?

A scantily clad 12 year old Mathilda (Portman) befriends a hitman who lives down the hall after her whole family is killed. She desires to be like him and becomes thirsty for revenge. Leon (Reno), stubborn but not entirely hardened, takes her in and shows her what he knows, vowing to protect her, down to the end of his life if necessary. The narrative shifts between the duo’s activity and a corrupt officer Stansfield’s (Oldman) antics and pursuit of the girl, and eventually leads to a stunning showdown between Stansfield and Leon. The action plays out like a comic book: Stansfield is the predecessor of The Dark Knight‘s Joker, a drug-fueled villain who shows wiles beyond his expertise, who sends his lackeys (really, the local police department and SWAT team) at the virtually invincible Leon.  A high body count ensues, as one might imagine. The film is intense for the majority of it, only interrupted by humorous exchanges between the aloof Leon and the mature-beyond-her-years Mathilda. The standout performance is Oldman, who plays his role out with a queasy combination of insanity and calculated violence. Portman is interesting as well, but only because of how discomforting her behavior becomes, for she develops into an untouchable sexual tease for the viewer. The reality is that Leon inherits a paternal role, but she makes commentary about being in love with Leon (which he rebuffs, thank goodness), is dressed like a prostitute for most of the film and even jokes with an inn keeper about their love life. It doesn’t go full Lolita, but it’s pretty close.

What are some themes in the film?

Revenge, adoption/paternal roles, corruption, self-sacrifice

Did this affect me personally?

Portman’s character made a bizarre impression upon me.  Oldman as Stansfield is a megavillain I would never want to encounter. The final sequence, like many films, is a stunning chain of events.

Why is this ranked #27?

It seems like Leon is a cult classic: it’s violent, discreetly sexual, and features endless action. Oldman turns in an eccentric and memorable performance.  Portman is now an established actress and her role likely bolsters its rating on the IMDb Top 250.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She sat through it, but I don’t think she found it interesting.

Would I watch it again?

Probably not.  It’s not my style, and it’s certainly discomforting in other ways.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

It might be worth a look, but objectivity is important.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

It’s possible.  Leon‘s ranking is ridiculous, but expected from a 25-40 year old demographic that likely saw this on TV and fell sorta-in-love with Portman’s portrayal of Mathilda, who to her credit was done brilliantly, and laughed at the cackling caricature played by Oldman.  Overall, however, the film is sadistic in nature, and feels underdeveloped. The cinematography and action alone might warrant reverence, but it falls short of bearing a legacy of greatness on an objective level.

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