Written by: Michael Den Boer on September 25th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: France, September 14th, 1994
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello, Peter Appel, Willi One Blood, Don Creech, Keith A. Glascoe, Randolph Scott, Michael Badalucco
BluRay released: September 14th, 2009
Approximate running time: 110 minutes (Theatrical Cut), 132 minutes (Director’s Cut)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: DTS HD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital Stereo English
BluRay Release: Optimum Releasing
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: £24.99
“I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven. Can you hear it? It’s like when you put your head to the grass and you can hear the growin’ and you can hear the insects. Do you like Beethoven?” – Agent Norman Stansfield
Léon is a professional hit man for hire who works for Tony. Leon is one of the best in his profession and he lives in a rundown apartment building in little Italy. Mathilda enters Léon’s life after her family is slaughtered by Agent Stansfield and his thugs. At first Léon wants nothing to do with Mathilda, but as the film progresses he teaches how to become an assassin. Léon will accept any job as long as it doesn’t involve killing women or kids. Through their loneliness Léon and Mathilda find something in each other that strengthens their bond for each other. Mathilda takes matters into her own hands when she sets out to kill the men who killed her little brother. Will Léon save her from these men, or will saving Mathilda lead to Léon’s demise?
Luc Besson with La Femme Nikita had announced to the international film world that he had arrived. At one he was even approached to direct an American remake titled Point of no Return. Four years after making La Femme Nikita he would return to familiar ground with Léon a film that bears many similarities to the aforementioned La Femme Nikita. Since its original theatrical release Léon has had a varied history through the years in 1994 it was released by Columbia/TriStar as The Professional in a much shorter 110 minute version for American audiences. Fast forward to 2000 when Columbia/TriStar re-released the film on DVD this time as Léon The Professional in its 133 minute cut of the film which spends more time developing the characters. The original French release of the film clocks in at 136 minutes. For this BluRay release the 110 minutes and 133 minutes versions have been included.
Every now and then comes along a film like Léon were the script, cast and director are all at the top of their game as they elevate the material to another level. Luc Besson’s expert direction keeps things moving and interesting throughout with some standout moments being a scene earlier on where Agent Stansfield and his men slaughter Mathilda’s family. Another standout sequence in the film’s finale shootout where Léon trapped in his apartment takes on dozens of cops single handedly. Very earlier on the film establishes how proficient of a hit man Léon is as he meticulously takes out all the guards protecting a drug dealer. Even though there is plenty of action in this film, this film is so much more than your standard action extravaganza. At the core of this film is the evolving relationship between Léon and Mathilda. Some of the film’s most memorable moments are the scenes in which Mathilda helps Léon connect with his more childlike side.
Léon is filled with exceptional performances from its solid cast of actors. Natalie Portman in her film debut as Mathilda shows range and emotion beyond her years. Gary Oldman has made a career playing crazy villain’s and as Agent Stansfield he manages to refine his performance without going too far over the top like he has done many times before playing similar roles. The scene where Agent Stansfield explains his fondness for Ludwig Van Beethoven to Mathilda’s father gives the viewer a clear idea of what kind of man he is. Without a doubt the film’s most mesmerizing performance comes from Jean Reno in the film’s lead role of Léon. Jean Reno brings to Léon an equal balance of intensity that gives the character a believable credibility as a killer and sorrow that helps the audience sympathize with Léon. Some actors are born to play a certain role and for Jean Reno, Léon is the character that he will be forever remembered for. Eric Serra’s score Léon for perfectly captures the mood of the piece and just like his other scores that he wrote other Luc Besson films his score for Léon is an integral part of the film’s success. Ultimately Léon is unlike most action movies, with all the guns and explosions taking a back seat to the well defined characters and their choices they make.
Léon comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. Both versions of the film, the theatrical and director’s cuts are presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. The image exhibits more detail than other versions of the films that I have seen to date, colors and flesh tones generally fare well throughout. Another area where this release improves upon previous releases is that edge enhancement is not as pronounced. There also appears to be some contrast boosting of the image as it looks brighter than previous releases of the film.
This release comes with two audio mixes DTS HD 5.1 English and Dolby Digital Stereo English. Removable English subtitles have been provided. Both audio mixes sounds clean, clear and balanced throughout with the more dynamic of the two being the DTS HD 5.1 English.
Extras include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 20 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), a segment titled “Natalie Portman Starting Young” (13 minutes 49 seconds – anamorphic widescreen), a segment titled “Jean Reno the Road to Léon” (12 minutes 24 seconds – anamorphic widescreen) and a ten year retrospective documentary (25 minutes 8 seconds – anamorphic widescreen). The ten year retrospective documentary is an informative extra that includes comments from all the major cast and crew, except director Luc Besson. The other two segments “Natalie Portman Starting Young” and “Jean Reno the Road to Léon” are exceptional stand alone interviews with each actor. Some of Natalie Portman’s audition footage can be seen in her interview. All of the extras are presented in a standard definition PAL. Overall even though transfer still leaves room for improvement, Léon gets a well rounded BluRay release from Optimum Releasing that improves upon all previous home video incarnations of the film.