Nineties’ Luc Besson (he’s not even a distant relative of post-2000’s Luc Besson) made three movies that are worth seeing: Nikita (1990), Léon (1994) and The fifth element (1997). Today I’m writing about the second, which features Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Natalie Portman.
The plot is the following: a hit man of the Italian mafia in New York (Jean Reno) finds himself living with the twelve-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after some corrupt agents of the D.E.A. exterminated her family. This results in a story of revenge but at the same time also in a strange love story between the girl and the hit man which, despite the premise, manages to be sweet without ever being vulgar. Apparently, we should thank Jean Reno for that, as he decided to interpret his character as a slightly retarded person unable to conceive a physical relationship with the child. Will Mathilda be able to get his revenge? What will become of his love for Léon? I won’t tell you, watch the movie already if you haven’t done so yet! It’s a great movie!
And why is it great? Because everything works in Léon. The action scenes are all well thought out, well shot, and well choreographed. Every shooting is credible and adrenalinic, with a growing tension that never disappoints. The actors are all very good despite the difficulty of interpreting complex characters in situations that are far from normal. This is not surprising as we are talking about Gary Oldman (it seems that he improvised the wonderful “EVERYONE!!!!” line at the end of the film) and Natalie Portman, both recently awarded with an Oscar for best actor/actress! The love story between Mathilda and Léon is strange, sweet, never falls into the pedophilia trap, and when in the end he “surrenders” and tells her that he loves her we really believe him and we hope that things will go well so that they can continue to be together!
And then the direction… Luc Besson uses a lot of imaginative shots to make us feel the action, we are always INSIDE the events! The film doesn’t slow down even for a second, it is clear that everyone was in a period of grace, of inspiration. It’s crazy to think that for Besson this was a simple filler while waiting for Bruce Willis to be free to shoot his real big project, The fifth element… It’s incredible to think that he wrote the script in a month and shot the whole movie in three, and more importantly, the result is infinitely superior to its most ambitious project!
In short, Léon is a great film, probably the best ever shot by the French director. The version that you find today on DVD and Bluray is about twenty minutes longer than the one that came out in theaters. In practice, there is a long initial scene showing how Léon works and some more scenes characterizing the relationship between Léon and Mathilda. The longer the better, in this case! Ciao!