the fresh films reviews

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Léon (1994)

Luc Besson
The Professional

106 minutes

Patrice Ledoux
Luc Besson

Cast includes:

Léon Jean Reno
Stansfield Gary Oldman
Mathilda Natalie Portman
Tony Danny Aiello
Mathilda's father Michael Badalucco ½



Of the handful of masterpieces that were released during 1994, the golden year of modern cinema (meaning roughly the post-New Hollywood era), Léon was arguably the most thematically daring and in many ways also visually striking. When director Luc Besson was to make his first English language film set in the United States, his aim may have been a genre-movie with an edgy angle, but chances are his ambitions for the project grew proportionally with the magic created by the three main actors on set. As realized by Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and Natalie Portman, the character triangle of Léon, Stansfield and Mathilda takes on Shakespearean proportions, elevating this film to one of the all-time greats.

Léon is a delightful mix of aesthetics and cunning. The film's brilliance is based on a trinity of merit: 1) The crime story, which combines classic antihero aspects with a corrupt NYC cop nostalgia and some very clever (albeit often familiar) plot devices; 2) The ambiguity of the relationship between Léon and Mathilda, which Besson arguably wrote to make a statement or even provoke, but which Jean Reno's delicate character creation and Natalie Portman's naturalness and sensuality elevated into something truer and far more fortified, something that was able to question established conceptions without being questionable or exploitative, at least not explicitly; and 3) The style and aesthetics – Besson's world is at once both grippingly realistic and seductively outlandish. Through its combination of nostalgia, colour palette and a slight, but ever-present hint of the absurd, Léon transports you away, well helped by Eric Serra's hypnotic score.

Despite its grandeur, Léon never takes itself too seriously. Besson is able to take a step back and view his work from a distance, something which gives the film subtlety, self-reflection, and ultimately entertainment value. Léon is a dreamland of wickedness, a tribute to love and life infused with a fuck you to moralization and a poetic appreciation for death and carnage. Let's rejoice, not repent, shouts Luc Besson. And let all forms of corruption exist at its own peril. This is art that looks into souls.

Re-reviewed: Copyright © 28.08.2021 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review: Copyright © 19.02.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang