Léon: The Professional (R / unrated )
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So, this is an American film by French director Luc Besson, set in New York City, and released in 1994. Originally titled simply “Léon,” for its French release, it was retitled “The Professional” for its American release. But it is also sometimes called by both names, as it is on the DVD I have, so that's what I'm calling it. I suppose I probably saw it years ago, with friends who rented it, or something. But I don't really remember anything about it. So, now I'm going to watch it again. The DVD I have now is called the “uncut international version,” which has 24 minutes of extra scenes; I have no idea whether they were in the version I saw originally or not, since I really don't remember what year I saw it, but this version was released in 2000, I guess. Oh, and I guess this version is unrated, whereas the original version was rated R. I'm not sure if there's any reason for the difference, other than the ratings people... not bothering to rate the extended version after already rating the movie once, or... if “unrated” means anything. Whatever. Either way, you know there's stuff in both versions that may not be suitable for younger viewers.
Anyway... there's this hitman (or as he calls himself, a "cleaner") named Léon. (I gather he's an Italian-American, though the actor is French and his accent seems French to me.) He's friends with a mafioso named Tony, who gets him jobs. One day, Léon sort of befriends a 12-year-old girl named Mathilda, who lives in his building. She lives with her abusive father, stepmother, younger brother, and older half sister. (I don't really understand how the younger children can be younger than a half sister who is the daughter of their father's current wife, unless Mathilda misspoke, and meant to call her older sister a stepsister, rather than a half sister. But it's not important to the story.) Anyway, there's this corrupt DEA agent named Stansfield, who's kinda nuts. But he's got a bunch of guys working for him, who are clearly all corrupt (though it's also clear that most of the DEA and the cops don't know that Stansfield is corrupt). Actually, I also feel like there's little or no distinction here between the DEA and the police, which seems a bit odd to me. But whatever. Anyway, apparently Mathilda's father was involved with them, holding some cocaine... which has been cut. He denies doing it, but naturally he was lying. So Stansfield and his guys kill him and his whole family. Except Mathilda, who was out buying groceries, at the time. She returns while the bad guys are still there, but she goes to Léon's apartment instead of her own.
Well, she soon learns that he's a hitman, and wants him to train her, so she can take out Stansfield and his guys. Not because she gives a crap about her family... except for her little brother. She totally wants revenge for his death. Léon is reluctant, but soon gives in, since she has nowhere else to go. So... she starts learning to use guns. And stuff. Also, she eventually tells Léon that she's in love with him, but he refuses to accept that. (I daresay viewers are more likely to have disturbing feelings toward Mathilda than Léon did. There's actually a lot of potential here for... inappropriate things to happen between them, but nothing ever does. For which I am grateful. And yet... well, this is Natalie Portman's first major role, and she's probably the main reason I was interested in the movie. She's certainly too young here to be considered sexy, but no one could reasonably claim she's not beautiful. And certainly her acting is exemplary.) Um... so, I don't want to say how the movie ends, or anything. There's lots of violence, and yet the relationship between Mathilda and Léon is strangely sweet. And also there's vengeance, which is fun. Maybe not right, but it can't hurt to enjoy such things vicariously through fictional characters. Oh, and also there's some humor in the movie. Some of it is dark, but some of it... isn't.
So... what else can I say? I originally included this review under "coming of age." Um... it's strange. The movie may be a bit darker than some of the films in the category (but not as much darker as you might expect). But honestly, I think Mathilda was already pretty grown up for her age, at the beginning of the movie. In an ironic way, she kind of had to be thrust into a more grown-up life than most people ever experience, in order to ultimately accept the need to act her age. It's like the anti-coming-of-age movie, sort of. Or reverse coming of age. Or growing up by... growing backward. Or something. But also... there is the surprising fact that it's not just about Mathilda coming of age, it's also about Léon doing so. In fact, he even mentions that at one point. When she says she's grown up, but just needs to get older, he says he's old enough, but still needs to grow up. And I think having her enter his life helped him do that. Which is kind of a neat twist on the concept, and one that personally I wish would be explored more often (possibly in less violent movies, with more ordinary people). Because... as I said on the category's main page, coming of age can happen at any age. ...However, I later moved the review to "badass movies," when I created that new category. Which doesn't make anything I've said in this paragraph any less true.