“You’re not going to lose me. You’ve given me a taste for life. I wanna be happy. Sleep in a bed, have roots. And you’ll never be alone again, Mathilda. Please, go now, baby, go. Calm down, I’ll meet you at Tony’s in an hour, I love you, now go, go now.”
‘Léon’, directed by Luc Besson in 1994, is an energetic, stylised and surprisingly comedic action thriller. Jean Reno in the title role plays a hitman, cool and clinical at work by childlike and innocent when not killing people. He meets a young girl, Mathilda, played by Natalie Portman, whose family has been murdered by a drug-addled, sadistic cop. She persuades him to train her with the intention of getting revenge, but finds that she needs Léon’s protection when the cop finds her. It’s packed with inventive camera movements and kinetic action scenes, as expected from a proponent of the Cinéma du look movement, but it is the quiet and subtle pathos that Reno and Portman bring to their characters, the realistic love story that develops between them and the contrast of Gary Oldman’s intense and memorably eccentric performance as the cop that really give this film a distinctive edge. I was reminded of the later movie ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ which shares a similar tone and subject, but Besson’s stylish direction gives ‘Léon’ an extra dimension whilst retaining the later films sense of fun and lightness of touch. The highlights of the movie were the numerous scenes of Reno and Portman together, just learning to live, and Oldman’s mercurial and slippery characterisation, slipping uneasily but deftly between the sublime and the ridiculous. In the end, the best demonstration of the power of the film comes with the emotional kick of the final scenes.
Would I recommend it? Yes – maybe with ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ or perhaps go back to the beginning with ‘Subway’. Now I’m going to return to Eastern European surrealist comedies.