Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel, Ellen Greene, Michael Badalucco
Written by: Luc Besson
Directed by: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: R for scenes of strong graphic violence, and for language
Running Time: 110
Date: 03/19/2013
IMDB

Léon: The Professional (1994)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mean and Clean

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Luc Besson's The Professional (called Leon in every other country except here) is his English-language debut and a semi-sequel to his 1991 La Femme Nikita -- which would ordinarily be two strikes against him right there. Fortunately, even with Hollywood breathing down his neck, Besson brings a French sensibility -- with a touch of Jean-Pierre Melville -- to his American action film, which focuses on Leon, the "Cleaner" character from Nikita.

The Cleaner is played by Jean Reno, an actor that looks like a thug, but possesses extraordinary grace. He is shown as a spare, but motherly fellow who owns nothing but a plant and a refrigerator in which to keep the huge amount of milk he consumes. His one vice is going to the movies to watch old musicals. One day, a girl, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who lives in his building comes home to find her family gruesomely slaughtered by a drug lord (Gary Oldman, in another over-the-top performance). She goes to Leon for help. He lets her stay for a little while, but before he can get rid of her, she decides that she wants to grow up to be like him and follow in his footsteps.

Soon, Leon is in all kinds of trouble with the drug lord and his own semi-crooked boss, played with Godfather intensity by Danny Aiello. We've seen this story before, but it's handled here with great style and charm. In many ways, it succeeds on levels that Nikita couldn't hit because it manages to demolish the walls around its "untouchable," distant main character. The movie finds ways for Mathilda and Leon to relate on a similar level, such as when she plays a game of impersonating celebrities. The only one Leon can guess is Gene Kelly, from the only movie he's probably ever seen.

The movie also gives us plenty of action, without ever putting the little girl in any danger that's above her head. There are some disturbing scenes that are not for little kids, but for the most part, The Professional is a great action picture. It was originally released in U.S. theaters in a 110-minute cut, which was the basis for this review, but the uncut version (a.k.a. Leon), running closer to 133 minutes, is now available on DVD.

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