Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 5th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: France, September 14th, 1994
Director: Luc Besson
Writer: Luc Besson
Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello
DVD released: September 9th, 2003
Approximate running time: 133 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
DVD Release: Columbia / TriStar
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $26.95
“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.
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 is presented in its aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in anamorphic video. The colors are beautifully balanced with natural skin tones and the black levels are solid throughout. There are some instances visible digital artifacts. The level of detail is slight improvement over previously released edition from Columbia/TriStar. This Superbit edition isn’t as messy as the previous released version of Léon, still Columbia/TriStar should have done a little more cleaned up on the print they used.
This DVD comes with two audio options English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English DTS, subtitle options include French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, for which Closed Captions are also available. The subtitles are easy to read and follow. Both audio options are outstanding as the bass is richly deep as it pulses through out the film and the gunfire this time around is less visceral then the previous edition of Leon. The dialog is crystal clear as even the faintest whisper can be heard with clarity. Eric Serra’s score has a nice shape and tone unfortunately for this Superbit DVD they neglected to include an isolated music track like the one included on the previous DVD.
This Superbit edition of Léon is the best version of the film currently available. There are no extras for this DVD and like most Superbit DVD’s the main focus of the bit-rate is dedicated to superior audio and video.