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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 September 17, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Starring: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel, Michael Badalucco
» See full cast & crew
Léon Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 17, 2009
Luc Besson's beloved "Léon" (1994) arrives on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment. The disc contains the theatrical and international versions of the film. Amongst the special features on the disc are "10-Year Retrospective", "Natalie Portman: Starting Young", "Jean Reno: The Road to Leon" and more. Subtitled in English. Region-B "locked".
Little Italy, New York City. An illiterate contract killer (Jean Reno, Nikita, Subway) is asked to do a job. He agrees and heads to the target's (Frank Senger, Bullet) hotel. When the target arrives, the killer expertly eliminates his guards and hands him a piece of paper with a phone number on it. The target then dials the number and listens to someone talking on the other end of the line. A few minutes later, he announces that this would be his last visit to New York City.
Later on. A 12-year-old girl (Natalie Portman, Closer, My Blueberry Nights) runs into the killer while trying to avoid a merciless DEA cop (Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy, 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 stay 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 naive 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 French director 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 more 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 that meet under some unusual circumstances and become close friends. That is it. It is flashy and packed with adrenalin but also tender and beautiful film. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the version of the film to see.
Between the shootouts there is plenty of humor. Reno's 'cleaning' lessons, in particular, are filled with spectacular lines that effectively counter most of the film's gritty action. Reno's endless facial expressions are also hilarious. Portman is a worthy match for the French actor. She brings to the screen the complex emotions her character struggles with exceptionally well. Oldman, who plays the psychopathic DEA cop, also leaves a lasting impression. Each time he appears on screen Léon completely loses its sweetness. Unsurprisingly, when he finally confronts the killer there are lots of fireworks.
Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, who during the '90s lensed some of the best films that came out of France -- amongst them Jean-Paul Rappeneau's The Horseman on the Roof (1995), Patrice Leconte's Ridicule (1996), and Gilles Mimouni's The Appartment (1996) -- deserves a lot of credit for the film's deceptive simplicity. Long-time Besson collaborator Eric Serra's (The Big Blue) soundtrack is also unforgettable.
Léon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Luc Besson's Léon arrives on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment.
This British release might have been sourced from the same elements used for the French release, courtesy of Gaumont, but it certainly looks different.
In terms of clarity and detail, the British release appears rather similar to the French one. The daylight scenes tend to be a tad too sharp for my taste, but for the most part, they are manageable. The overwhelming majority of the close-ups look good, but, as it was the case with the French release, the age of the film certainly shows. The contrast boosting I spotted on the French and German releases of Léon is still noticeable on the British release, but unlike what has been said about it, I don't find it to be overly disturbing. The mild-edge enhancement is still present.
Here's what separates the British release from the French one – hues and grain. Generally speaking, the hues on the British release are a lot gentler than those of the French release (those of you with larger screens should be able to tell most easily). Additionally, the British release shows more film grain – some of it actually mixed with a bit of digital noise – which I find to be a lot more appealing. During the second half of the film, and especially once the shootouts begin, it is very easy to tell where and how the British release looks different from the French one. For the record, the same minor flecks I spotted on the French release are also present on the British release.
This Blu-ray disc contains the International and Theatrical versions of Léon. The Theatrical version of the film is accessible through the special features section of the disc (the pop-up menu option is not activated when you watch it). I compared a few selected scenes from it with the French release (its theatrical version) and I could not quite tell whether or not there are notable differences between the two. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" release. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Léon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English LPCM 2.0 Stereo. I opted for the French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the French LPCM 2.0 track for the purpose of this review.
First of all, in the audio department, the British release is not identical to the French release either. The French release had the following audio options English DTS-HD HR 5.1, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0. As revealed above, the British disc has English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks for the International and Theatrical versions of the film.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track sounds very good. On the International version, the bass is loud and potent, the rear channels very effective and the high frequencies not overdone. To be honest, folks, I don't know what SONY would do with their upcoming Blu-ray release of Léon, but I doubt they would be able to improve the audio. Also, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review. For the record, Optimum Home Entertainment have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they split the image frame and the black bar below it.
Léon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: All of the supplemental features on this disc are in PAL. Therefore, if you reside in North America or another region where PAL is not supported, you must have a Region-Free player capable of converting PAL to NTSC, or a TV set capable of receiving native PAL data, in order to view them.
Léon: Theatrical Cut - as mentioned in the video synopsis, the Theatrical version of the film is accessible through the supplemental features section of this disc. (1080p).
10-Year Retrospective - this is exactly the same featurette the German Blu-ray release contains. In it, cast and crew members recall what it meant for them to be part of Luc Besson's film, and how they've changed during the years. (26 min).
Natalie Portman: Starting Young - another featurette from the German Blu-ray release. The actress recalls how she got the role in Leon. Some archival footage from the testing sessions are included as well.(14 min).
Jean Reno: The Road to Leon - the French actor talks about his life and career. (13 min).
Léon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
In my opinion, this British Blu-ray disc looks notably better than the French disc, courtesy of Gaumont, we reviewed some time ago. There are still a few minor issues with the transfer, but overall I find it to be the strongest of the three Blu-ray releases the film has received thus far. Obviously, there is room for improvement, and the upcoming U.S. release may prove to be the one to own, but at present, the British release is the only one I would recommend to fans of Léon.
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