*Updated version of review from 2003
A film which blends genres and emotions, Leon became one of the the most highly rated and loved cult hits of the 90s, thanks in no small part to the talented cast and director. Luc Besson’s film concerns a quiet and solitary hit-man who befriends a young girl after her family is slaughtered by a local crooked cop. Jean Reno stars as Leon, in his best performance, the professional hit-man with 100% success rate, solitary yet lonely. Gary Oldman is the crooked cop, stealing almost every scene he is in while Natalie Portman plays Mathilda, in one of the best child performances ever, conveying sadness and loneliness with hope and innocence, and anger and pain.
We are introduced to Leon, we see his mundane life, occasionally interspersed with acts of violence necessary for his career. His only friend is a pot plant, though he does have a relationship with his boss – a man who has a lot of respect for Leon, yet exploits him regardless. He lives alone in a flat. A few doors down is Mathilda who lives with her abusive father, alcoholic mother, and innocent younger brother. They have seen each other occasionally in the corridor. Mathilda’s father is in trouble with Oldman’s character, and he is killed along with his wife and son when Mathilda is shopping. She arrives home in the middle of the massacre, but saves herself by pleading that Leon lets her in. Leon’s life is turned upside down, torn between knowing he shouldn’t interfere but can’t let an innocent get hurt. Soon the two strike up an interesting friendship, each learning from the other and quickly becoming dependent on one another.
The film’s direction is often beautiful, and it complements the story perfectly, meaning that the tear-jerking scenes, action scenes, and everything else are all the more potent. Although the action is brilliant, it is the scenes between Leon and Mathilda which linger in the memory and raise the film into the top tier. There are many funny parts, most involving the fact that Leon has been outside of society for his entire life. Many critics mention a potential sexual relationship between the two, admittedly this could have occurred in the future, but by the end the most important thing is that they have found a special person who can give them hope. Although this is growing and reaching a wider audience it is still relatively little known, but it is a startling film which everyone should see.
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