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A corrupt Drug Enforcement Administration boss and his thugs murder Mathilda's family in a drug deal gone awry. Orphaned by the massacre, Mathilda is forced to take shelter in the apartment of a neighbor, Léon, whom she knows only slightly. He's a loner and first generation immigrant, who also happens to be a professional hitman. He's never had reason to care about anybody and she has no one else to turn to. Together they form a makeshift bond that will forever change both their lives.
For more about Léon and the Léon Blu-ray release, see Léon Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on December 22, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel, Michael Badalucco
Director: Luc Besson
» See full cast & crew
Léon Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, December 22, 2008
A shy contract-killer meets a feisty young girl in Gallic director Luc Besson's classic "Léon" (1994). The two form an unusual bond and go on to teach each other invaluable lessons about real life. The film arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of German distributors Kinowelt. The disc herein reviewed contains the theatrical (100 min) and international (133 min) versions of the film. There are no imposed German subtitles when the English audio track is selected. Region-B "locked".
Little Italy, New York City. An illiterate contract killer (Jean Reno, La Femme Nikita) is asked to do a job. He agrees and heads to the target's (Frank Senger, Bullet) hotel. When the target arrives, the killer eliminates his guards and hands him a piece of paper with a phone number on it. The target dials the number and then listens to someone talking on the other end of the line. A few minutes later, he announce that this would be his last visit to New York City.
Later on. The contract killer befriends a 12-year old girl (Natalie Portman, Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace ). She runs into him trying to escape a merciless DEA cop (Gary Oldman, Romeo Is Bleeding), who has killed every single member of her family. The contract killer isn't particularly interested in the girl but she manages to get under his skin. He lets her stays with him. A few days later, the girl asks her new friend to teach her how to "clean".
Even though Leon is hardly a controversial film, its history with American censors implies otherwise. The close relationship between a shy but incredibly skillful contract killer and a naïve but feisty 12-year old girl apparently rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. So, it took a while for American film aficionados to see Leon as Luc Besson envisioned it.
When the film's complete 133 minute version finally became available on this side of the Atlantic, I could not figure out why the American censors felt so uncomfortable with its tone. Léon wasn't explicit and it most certainly wasn't suggestive of a behavior that could have raised a red flag amongst conservative viewers. Yet, something apparently bothered the moralistic watchdogs.
The complete version of Léon tells a story about a lonely man and a lonely girl meeting under some unusual circumstances. It is flashy and packed with adrenalin but also tender and beautiful. Unsurprisingly, by the time the end credits roll, we feel that the two were meant for each other.
Léon also impresses with its unique sense of humor. Jean Reno's "cleaning" lessons are filled with spectacular lines that effectively counter most of the film's gritty action. Additionally, his endless facial expressions are absolutely hilarious. Young Natalie Portman is a worthy match for the French actor. She brings to the screen the complex emotions her character struggles with notably well. Gary Oldman, who plays the psychopathic DEA cop, is also unforgettable. Each time he appears on screen Léon completely loses its sweetness and immediately becomes a gritty, dirty and subversive piece of cinema. Logically, when he finally confronts the contract killer and his friend fireworks are everywhere.
Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, who has contributed to a number of terrific French films - including Jean-Paul Rappeneau's The Horseman on the Roof (1995), Patrice Leconte's Ridicule (1996), and Gilles Mimouni's The Apartment (1996) – is one of the key reasons why Leon dazzles with its deceptive simplicity. Long-time Besson collaborator Eric Serra's (The Big Blue) soundtrack is unforgettable.
Léon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Luc Besson's Leon arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of German distributors Kinowelt.
This is the first Kinowelt BD to reach my desk and I am fairly impressed with it – a nice metal case with soft matte-coating, and a stylish holder with an undercover, is what holds the actual BD.
What about the transfer? First of all, I must make it clear that this isn't a newly-restored print of Leon. I noticed a few flecks here and there (most of them appear in the opening 10-15 minutes) but wasn't disturbed by their presence. On the contrary, I found the print to be strikingly superior to previous DVD transfers in a number of different areas. The color-scheme in particular is very pleasing – yellows, blues, reds, and blacks are all natural looking and strong. In fact, blown through a digital projector the colors remain solid and do not break down as witnessed on the latest R1 SDVD release (black cover). Contrast and clarity are also notably better. The daylight scenes from New York City are vivid, detailed, and exceptionally strong-looking. Furthermore, I also did not detect any traces of DNR manipulation - Leon has a natural film-like look, which I am convinced will please those of you who have gone through a number of different SDVD releases of this film. This being said, there are two areas of this presentation that could have been bettered. First, there is a little bit of video noise which I was able to spot during some of the indoor scenes (the more notable ones appear after Jean Reno and Natalie Portman move into the hotel). Second, I also see a bit of contrast boosting. It is barely noticeable and most of you will probably not even see it, but it is certainly there. Aside from that, the rest of the print appears to be intact. Finally, I wish to also clarify that Kinowelt have supplied both versions of Leon - the Theatrical Cut (110 min) and the Director's Cut (133 min). (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc which you won't be able to playback on your Region-A PS3 or SA. You will have to use a native Region-B or Region-Free machine in order to playback its content).
Léon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: German DTS-HD HR 7.1 mix and English DTS-HD HR 7.1 mix. I don't believe there were any compromises here - the English DTS-HD HR 7.1 track is simply top notch. Leon's "sliding" bullets are very effective and truly something that needs to be heard. The final scene in the hotel is particularly impressive as the amount of activity in the rear channels, as well as the thumping bass, really add a lot more to Leon that I have not previously heard (I actually do have the old R1 superbit release as well so it was fairly easy for me to play around a bit and compare what this DTS-HD HR mix adds up). For the record, I did not detect any hissing, pops, or cracks. I also switched to the German dub a few times but, suffice to say, it is not something an English-speaker would find worthy (surely there are more than a few German speakers that would please to hear it). Optional German subtitles are provided for the main feature – they are split between the film frame and the lower black bar.
Léon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray disc offers the following supplemental materials: an isolated music track which you could access from the audio menu, theatrical trailer for the main feature, a photo gallery, "Jean Reno – The Road to Leon" (a featurette in PAL standard-def following the French actor's career), "Natalie Portman – Starting Young" (a featurette in PAL standard-def examining the actress' success), and "Leon – A Ten Year Retrospective" (a featurette in PAL standard-def following the history of the film and its success around the world).
Léon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I understand that many are quite disappointed with the fact that Luc Besson's Leon has not yet been given the Blu-treatment on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps 2009 will wash away the disappointment with a stellar SONY release. This being said, if you could play Region-B discs, you should certainly look into this most stylish package. The audio-video treatment Kinowelt have provided for Leon is quite good and certainly far stronger than anything we've seen available on SDVD. Recommended.
Léon: Other Editions
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