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Léon: The Professional(1994)
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: The Professional and the Léon: The Professional Blu-ray release, see Léon: The Professional Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 10, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 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: The Professional Blu-ray Review
Another professional release from Sony.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 10, 2009
I like these calm little moments before the storm.
It's the "calm little moments" that elevate Léon above and well beyond the plethora of both "Hitman" action-oriented movies and most any general Action picture out there. Director Luc Besson's (The Fifth Element) magnum opus blends hard-hitting action with both revenge-oriented drama and heartfelt sincerity in the film's superbly-developed relationship between killer and child. Léon understands that human complexities, drama, and consideration for the calm moments in between the action sequences are what make or break a film and separate the best of the genre from the doldrums of repetitive video-game style run-and-gun action that's barely recognizable one from another. Léon not only tells a story to compliment the action, but it constructs a powerful and moving tale that delivers real people with real feelings, real motivations, real skills, and most importantly, real souls to accentuate the purpose of the action. It doesn't hurt, either, that Besson proves himself a master craftsman of action in Léon, and the two combined make for one of the strongest films of its kind.
Hitman Léon (Jean Reno, Godzilla) is the best in the business, a true professional, taking out his targets with stealth and deadly efficiency. His next door neighbor is a young girl named Mathilda (Natalie Portman, Closer) who lives a life of abuse at the hands of her detached and uncaring parents. When her family is murdered by a gang led by a man named Stansfield (Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker's Dracula) as part of a drug deal gone bad, Léon reluctantly takes her in and soon finds himself with more than he bargained for. Mathilda wants Léon to teach her how to be a "cleaner," or hitman, so she can exact her revenge on Stansfield for the murder of her innocent four-year-old brother. Léon reluctantly agrees but soon finds that Mathilda sees him as more than a mentor and father figure, complicating both their relationship and her drive for vengeance that Léon himself cannot ignore.
Léon is a film that explores the human condition in the context of a world at its worst. Through the corruption, hate, greed, and violence that has influenced and, now, come to define young Mathilda's life, the film examines innocence that threatens to succumb to the very things that have torn her world apart. The film's crux stems from the fact that she finds comfort, solace, and even a misplaced romantic attraction in a man who is, himself, made of violence, but not of hate. Unlike Stansfield, Léon is fully capable of both understanding and respecting the distinction between the two and the resultant effect on the mind, body, and soul. Also unlike the people that murdered Mathilda's family, Léon works by a stringent set of rules that may not cleanse his soul of the deeds he's done, but they certainly allow him to, in a way, convey to Mathilda the distinction between "cleaning" the world of its most vile scum and haphazardly murdering both the guilty and the innocent with no respect for life or the deadly force that those that choose a life of violence truly wield.
In that context, the action of Léon is enhanced many times over. The film shows violence in several unique contexts: killing for misguided or otherwise unscrupulous reasons; killing those that, in some way or another, a justification may be made for their deaths; and killing -- and the seemingly unquenchable desire to do so -- for revenge. Each perspective, then, is witnessed through three sets of eyes: the guilty, the innocent, and a man caught somewhere in between. It's the in-between character -- Léon -- that proves the film's most fascinating. The movie creates a wonderful dichotomy that sees him in one scene a brutally efficient killer and, later, as a man that seems caught in a world from which he cannot escape thanks to his lack of education and, by extension, lack of options for a fruitful life outside the world of violence that defines his personal history and prevents him from finding that one thing that could reshape his life: true love. He kills not for money but merely because it's what he's always done, what's come to define his life for better or for worse, and Mathilda's place in his life allows him to find meaning in something other than the care for his plant, an act which symbolizes his desire to nurture rather than destroy, and by extension, his nurturing of Mathilda -- even if it means teaching her to be like him -- gives him a purpose in life that was absent before. Luc Besson's action scenes take on a new tone and purpose when seen through the eyes of each character, and therein lies Léon's greatest strength.
Suffice it to say, however, that Léon is also a success thanks to the high quality acting that permeates the entire film. Gary Oldman delivers another top-notch and Oscar-worthy performance in Léon; while it may not be his signature role, it's one of his very best. One of the finest actors of his or any other generation, he has an uncanny ability to completely lose himself in each and every role he plays, and his effort in Léon is no exception. Deliciously deviant, thoroughly dangerous, morally repugnant, and concealing a secret that adds an additional layer of complexity to his motivation, Oldman's character proves a challenge the actor conquers in every scene-chewing moment. His performance is easily the highlight of the movie from a more technical perspective, besting even the efforts of his fellow actors and Besson's marvelous direction. Still, Léon would not be the success that it is without an almost equally strong performance from Jean Reno. At once both deadly and emotional, Reno plays his character with a superb balance that's reinforced by an undertone of innocence and desire to better his life that allows him to both accept and understand Mathilda on almost every level. Likewise, a young Natalie Portman turns in what is, to date, her strongest performance, no doubt aided by what is the best character and script she's had to work with.
Léon: The Professional Blu-ray, Video Quality
Léon arrives on Blu-ray with another strong 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer from Sony. The film's bright exterior city shots look fantastic with superb clarity and attention to detail and color. The grocery store that sits adjacent to Léon's apartment building features an abundance of colorful products in the window, and the fine detail surrounding the store on the brick façade; pavement; and even a grimy, beaten, and graffiti-laden telephone booth look marvelous. Likewise, interior shots of both Léon's and Mathilda's apartments look appropriately worn, beaten, and generally run down, with a coat of grime and various scuffs, dents, and cracks on the walls. The image also enjoys strong clarity and detail on a myriad of objects. Whether cereal boxes and milk cartons or the fine lines, ridges, and general wear on the bluing of Léon's impressive weapons collection, the transfer allows even the smallest of nuanced imagery to stand out nicely. Color reproduction is solid, too; the green leaves on Léon's prized plant are expertly and realistically rendered, as are any other number of hues throughout, from Mathilda's blue eye shadow in one scene to the pink and red color on Léon's pig-styled oven mitt. Sharpness is solid, though the image can appear slightly soft in several shots. Blacks are generally strong throughout, and flesh tones never veer too far towards either the red or ghastly ends of the spectrum. Rounded out by a moderate layer of film grain, Léon makes for another winning transfer from Sony.
Léon: The Professional Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Léon shoots up Blu-ray with a high-quality DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. While the film's themes compliment the action to perfection, it's the action itself that defines the soundtrack. Léon does feature a nicely-done mix outside the bullets; it delivers some exceptional supporting atmospherics during the somewhat ethereal opening musical number. The sounds of the city are nicely realized throughout, but they never overpower the rest of the track, instead working in conjunction with music, dialogue, and additional sound effects to create a pleasant atmosphere. Still, there's no denying that the hard-hitting action of Léon is what makes this track, and from the first action piece on, it's clear that this lossless DTS track means business. Léon's first hit on the fat man features exceptionally reproduced gunfire. Loud, aggressive, and featuring pinpoint placement of both shots and impacts in flesh and solid objects, each shot hits a target with a power and precision that accentuates the artistry of the action and the violence of the moment. Later, heavier machine gun fire and several explosions are heard and felt all around the soundstage, and explosions are delivered with a hefty rattling bass that doesn't overplay its hand. Still, much of Léon is dialogue-driven, and in that department, the soundtrack never falters. Léon makes for another well-above-average soundtrack from Sony.
Léon: The Professional Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from the inclusion of the 109-minute theatrical version and 133-minute extended cut of the film, this Blu-ray release of Léon features only a small handful of extras. 10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back (480p, 25:10) is exactly as it sounds, a "virtual gathering" that sees the cast -- spread all over the world -- coming together to recall a vast amount of interesting information revolving around the world of Léon. Participants include Producer Patrice Ledoux, Actress Maiwenn, Casting Director Todd Thaler, Actor Jean Reno, Director of Photography Thierry Arbogast, Actress Natalie Portman, Costume Designer Magali Guidasci, Actor Frank Senger, Editor Sylvie Landra, Actress Ellen Greene, and Actor Michael Badalucco. Jean Reno: The Road to 'Léon' (480p, 12:25) takes a closer look at Jean Reno's performance in a challenging role, framed around the actor's history and how it prepared him to tackle the demands of the lead character in Léon. Natalie Portman: Starting Young (480p, 13:50) takes an interesting look at the film's young character and the equally young actress that portrayed her. Also included is a text-based "Fact Track" that plays over the extended version of the film; BD-Live functionality; and 1080p trailers for The Da Vinci Code, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Angels & Demons, Felon, 12, District 9, and Moon. No digital copy, on-disc or otherwise, is included.
Léon: The Professional Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Léon is an exceptional film on every level: thematically, emotionally, and technically. The star of the film isn't the action but rather the meaning behind it, an engrossing look at the loss of innocence, the quest for vengeance, and the search for purpose in life. Few Action films cover such a broad spectrum of emotion as Léon, and its deeper philosophical overtones are supported by a trio of exceptional performances, notably from Gary Oldman in a trademark performance, all of which accentuate the action many times over. Sony's Blu-ray release is technically solid. Both picture and sound quality are very good, and the included supplements are few in number but rather high in quality. Highly recommended.
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