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DVDs I think you should own #4 – Leon

25/01/2011

Staying on a vengeance tip is this punchy action thriller from French writer/director Luc Besson. It’s a film that entranced me and my friends when it came out on video (many a “study period” was spent studying Leon instead of schoolwork) and felt so important at the time that I am always shocked when I meet someone who hasn’t seen it. It’s easy to forget that the generations before and since probably didn’t feel the same way we did and I think it’s a film that somewhat shockingly passed a lot of people by. I’ll do my best not to spoil it here.

Leon (an astonishing Jean Reno) is a hitman. The best is the business actually, a fact that gets established immediately with one of the finest action sequences ever committed to film. When his next door neighbour crosses Gary Oldman’s deranged DEA Officer Stansfield the whole family is slaughtered, save their twelve year old daughter Mathilda (Natalie Portman). She knocks on Leon’s door (which saves her life) and asks for his help in avenging the death of her family. Oldman’s performance in particular is a lesson in elemental insanity that has stayed with me ever since and worth the price of the DVD alone.

It’s as near to perfect as any film has the right to be. The script is drum tight and the development of Leon and Mathilda as characters is convincing and touching. Leon’s lonely existence suits his profession but the sudden arrival of another human being in his life makes him question his way of life and transforms it, both personally and professionally. The presence of the little girl reignites something in Leon, a lost innocence and a reminder of the life he has given up to be a killer for hir. Although it is essentially an action film (and what action!) this brings a humanity to it that is touching without being overly sentimental. As for the action scenes, they are executed with a precision and beauty that is difficult to match. Wonderfully choreographed and beautifully photographed the set pieces are thrilling in the truest sense, especially the climactic battle as Leon’s enemies start to close in on him and his new found friend. A worthy peer of any bload soaked gun ballet the likes of John Woo has to offer, Besson has an eye for the dark beauty inherent in violence and an instinct for the dramatic timing required to construct a truly exciting action sequence.

Sadly it’s only available now as the Directors cut which includes some extra scenes that are good in their own right but are a bit surplus to requirements when it comes to the story. Maybe I’m just too used to the original UK cut but I feel it’s a much more streamlined film without the additional material and would urge you to seek out this version before you watch the director’s cut. I believe these extra scenes were never cut from the European release and I suppose it’s fair enough that the film should be available as originally intended, but it would be nice to be able to choose between the versions. Region 1 fans can probably still get the non-directors cut (it’s called The Professional in the States, as you can see from the below trailer), it’s probably worth the effort. Either way, it is essential viewing.

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