"The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn."
On the surface, Léon is an easily dismissible film because it just seems like a simple French drama. But Léon is something far from that. Léon is an absorbing character study that has all the elements of gripping drama mixed with the elements of an exciting American action film. The combination equals one of the most intelligent American action films in cinematic history.
Léon is the first American film by director Luc Besson and it's a masterpiece. The film is exciting, suspenseful, taut, smart and awesome.
Jean Reno plays the title role of Léon; a professional assassin with a robust reputation. In his apartment building an abused, alienated 12-year-old girl named Mathilda (Portman) is left alone when the rest of her family are slaughtered courtesy of crooked, two-faced, psychotic DEA cop Norman Stansfield (Oldman). Léon reluctantly takes Mathilda under his wing; providing care and a place to stay because she has no-where else to go.
But Mathilda is intrigued by Léon's profession of being a hit man. In order to avenge the death of her little brother (the only one in the family she cared about), Léon teaches Mathilda the art of his trade and reveals the secrets of how to become a professional cleaner. But this blooming friendship opens up new doors for Léon; he feels the ability to care and love.
Léon brilliantly combines scenes of violent, awesome action with some compelling drama that showcases wonderful performances. Jean Reno begins as a cold assassin who feels nothing. Every turn for his character is felt strongly by the audience. He's reluctant to shelter young Mathilda but when he finally does it alters his life forever. Being a professional hit man he should not have the ability to love and strongly feel emotion. Jean Reno never breaks his profound concentration for the film's duration. The opening 20 minutes showed Reno as ruthless and cool; everything one should find in such a character.
Natalie Portman is in her film debut with this role. She's extremely young, but her acting can't be faulted. Her performance is heart-felt and sincere. Whenever she cries it doesn't feel at all contrived. For someone in their early teen years, this is a quality almost unheard of. Kudos to Portman for pulling off such a convincing first role!
Gary Oldman is sadistic and cynical but at the same time energetic and occasionally amusing. His character was despicable; however Oldman plays the role to perfection.
Luc Besson really knows how to direct a film like this. The cinematography in particular was outstanding! The action scenes don't suffer from the usual fast cut syndrome. They are filled with creative camera angles, ultra violence and the camera was utilised in a highly inventive way.
Léon also boasts a great story that suffers from a very small number of typical clichés. Sure, the love story was a little embarrassing at times but that's only a marginal fault. Aside from that the script is smart, the action is taut and the film is dazzling entertainment.
Léon is highly recommended for a night of action, laughs and drama all rolled into one masterpiece.