Friday, May 13, 2011
Movies You Should See (But Probably Haven't): Leon the Professional
First off, 100 followers! This blog is so popular, it broke Blogger! So sorry about that, but thanks for your support.
Now on to today's movie you should see, but possibly haven't. Leon the Professional isn't too obscure of a flick, and I'm sure every big movie fan has seen it. But it boggles my mind this hasn't reached the mainstream appeal this deserves.
This is the story about Leon. He is a Professional. He's a mob hitman who does his job and retreats to the solidarity of his rundown apartment. He can't speak English very well, his only friend is a plant (does Hot Fuzz make a bit more sense now), and all he does when he's not killing is watch old movies and drink milk.
He lives next door to a little girl named Matilda -- played by a 12-year-old Natalie Portman in her first ever role -- who often picks up milk for Leon. Her family has been stealing drugs, and are soon brutally murdered by the dealers. After narrowly avoiding the massacre, Mathilda seeks help from Leon to train her how to kill, so she can avenge her family. So all action from there, right.
Actually, this film is able to combined genres seamlessly, so expect a lot of drama and character development from this point on. Sure, there is a shootout for the ages at the end, but without knowing who these characters are, there just would not be any emotion at all.
The characters here are some of the greatest to ever grace the screen, and something which really helps build them are the dramatic intros each person has. When you first see Leon (played by the great French action star Jean Reno, who has really been able to break the typecast and has become a very versatile actor since this) you actually don't see him. He cleans up a mafia stronghold so quickly, you can only catch glimpse of him. You can see the glint of his sunglasses or the woosh of his jacket as he flies by, but the opening scene is all about what you can't see. It just shows how good he is at his job.
Then there is Mathilda, sitting at the top of her apartment staircase. You can hear her father yelling in the background, and the camera slowly pans around here revealing several bruises and the cigarette she is holding. She begins as a very troubled and hopeless youth, but she visibly grows stronger as the film progresses. Writer/director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, the Fifth Element) actually wanted a slightly older actress, but Portman channeled her black swan and blew him away at auditions.
Then there is her family's murderer Stan, played by none other than Gary Oldman. In my Top Ten Actors Who Should Play Osama Bin Laden list, I mention Oldman is the greatest on-screen villain of all time, and this role is his tour de force. He plays the worst kind of drug dealer: the one who is also a cop. Like Leon, you don't actually see him at first. He spends his entire first scene with his back to the camera. But when you do see him, he is laughing, snorting coke, and having a great time killing. Leon doesn't like killing people, it's only his job. But Stan enjoys it. Some critics said Oldman overacted too much, but this must have been their first Oldman movie. It's not even in his overacting top ten.
Finally, there's Danny Aiello who plays a mafia bookie. You may remember him from... what's that movie called... oh yeah, every mafia movie ever, as the bookie.
This movie may be sandwiched between two amazing action scenes, but it is all about meeting and growing with the characters in between then. You will grow to cheer for Leon, to hate Stan, and to understand the relationship Mathilda and Leon share. Yeah, the movie got into a little trouble because it almost kinda somewhat implied that Mathilda and Leon perhaps maybe possibly have sex. Although, if you pay attention, she sees Leon more as a father than anything else.
There are two great moments at the end which I'll do by best to practically spoil for you. The final shootout ends with a bang, in my opinion the greatest moment ever in an action movie. You'll see. And you know this had a good director when the ending makes you cry manly tears...over a plant.
Go see this if you haven't. If you have, see it again. It's in my top ten favorite movies.