Leon The Professional was a classic for uncountable reasons and one of them was that the action never takes the front seat. This was always a film about Leon (Jean Reno) and Mathilda (Natalie Portman), a 12 year old whom Leon takes under his wings after her family is murdered by a psychotic DEA officer and his gang when a drug deal goes wrong. There are loads of action but each of the action sequences happen as a result of heightened emotions and are seamlessly tailored into the narrative. The film truly put its director Luc Besson in the big league of Hollywood. It remains till date his most accomplished achievement.
Leone is a professional killer who does hits for a man named Tony (Danny Aiello). Tony is in many ways his godfather and the only relative that he has in the world. Mathilda lives with her parents and her kid brother who happens to be the only thing that she loves in the world. She meets and speaks with Leon sometimes on his way around the building as they stay in the same floor. Mathilda’s father gets into a raw deal with the DEA and the most notorious officer in its ranks, Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Stan kills the man and in the process wipes out his whole family including Mathilda’s kid brother. Mathilda was out shopping and by the time she returns home, she sees the mayhem and walks past the scene and into Leon’s apartment who after much consideration decides to help her.
Mathilda for the first time in her life finds a true friend in Leon. She confines in him and expresses her desire to kill the perpetrators. Leon asks her not to walk the path of revenge but she is adamant. She requests him to teach her how to do hits. Absurd as it may sound, Leon agrees to teach her as he is visibly smitten by her. Soon Mathilda professes her love for Leon who is almost her father’s age. In the meantime, Mathilda tracks Stan during one of her visits to their old home. She unlocks the address of his precinct and turns up subsequently armed to the teeth to kill him. She however gets caught and is detained. Leon, who finds a letter she left for him, realizes teh danger she might be in and comes to her rescue. Stan who till now was oblivious to Mathilda and Leon’s existence now comes after them with all he has got at his disposal. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative of the film.
The film works because every factor gels. The narrative is interesting, the performances terrific and the action electric. The film starts off with an opening action sequence which shows the prowess of Leon. In this sequence he single-handedly kills and army of bodyguards before he can deliver a threat to a gangster. What we see in the opening sequence is only part of the man who immediately shows his softer side when he is shown interacting with Mathilda. In the scene after her family’s death, when Leon consoles Mathilda, we are introduced to his childlike nature which is a stark contrast from his murdering self. Mathilda’s dislike her for family is well documented in the sequence establishing her character which shows her being ill-treated by her whole family. Stan is a psychopath and a murderer. He operates on drugs almost all the time and the way he goes about his work makes for a terrifying view.
In between the elaborate action sequences and spats of violence, there are scenes of unprecedented softness. The scene where Mathilda tries to woe Leon and make him believe in her love for him is a treat to watch. This is primarily for the reason that Leon, who is an invincible hitman, finds himself going limp against this willful little girl. Also Mathilda seems pretty serious about what she confesses to Leon and that is both hilarious and heartening to watch. Natalie Portman as Mathilda is superb. She oozes confidence in a role which has many shades to it. She not only holds her own against the more seasoned actors, she also carves a niche for herself in the film. Jean Reno as Leone is superb. No one else could have played the character the way he has, period! Gary Oldman is terrifying as Stan. He is an able adversary to Jean Reno’s Leon. He not only proves to be difficult to take down but also provides you with some tense moments wherein you pray for the well-being of your protagonists. The climax is the most terrifying of them all.
Leon The Professional is as entertaining as it is heartbreaking. This is one of those rare action films wherein character development and drama takes the center stage and yet you are never deprived of the action. Fearsome villains, powerful hero and a tender love story mark this sensational film. It is a must watch for one and all.