Cert: 18 Runtime: 110 mins Director: Luc Besson Cast: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Peter Appel, Danny Aiello and Gary Oldman
The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use, because it lets you keep your distance from the client. 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.
Before the release of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I was thinking to myself what is my favorite performance by Gary Oldman, with a few in mind such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Fifth Element and Batman Begins. But his performance in Leon is what sticks out in my mind when it comes to this great British actor. Leon is about Mathilda (Natlaie Portman), a twelve-year old New York girl, is living an undesirable life among her half-family. Her father stores drugs for two-faced cop Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Only her little brother keeps Mathilda from breaking apart. One day, Stansfield and his team take cruel revenge on her father for stretching the drugs a little, thus killing the whole family. Only Mathilda, who was out shopping, survives by finding shelter in Léon’s (Jean Reno) apartment in the moment of highest need. Soon, she finds out about the strange neighbour’s unusual profession – killing – and desperately seeks his help in taking revenge for her little brother. Léon, who is completely unexperienced in fatherly tasks, and in friendships, does his best to keep Mathilda out of trouble – unsuccessfully. Now, the conflict between a killer, who slowly discovers his abilities to live, to feel, to love and a corrupt police officer…
It obviously helps when your leading man has as much screen presence as Jean Reno. Thin and wiry with toilet brush hair and a face like a bag of spanners, he is hardly your typical gun-toting action hero, but he has an innocence and compassion that makes you fall for him instantly. Leon’s life is as simple as a small child’s: TV, lashings of milk and the odd gangland assassination. He cannot read, he doesn’t sleep, he hasn’t the trappings of family or wealth (the fees for his hits are habitually trousered by his `benefactor’: sleazy small-time Italian gangster Tony (Danny Aiello)) – In short, he lives like a robot. And then he meets Mathilda.Normally I can’t stand Hollywood kids. They are all doey-eyed, bouffant-haired brats who can cry on cue and are always ready with a cutesy, smart-alec comment that will cause their adult co-stars to tinkle with laughter or tousle their hair playfully. Often they are kidnapped and huge ransoms demanded while their parents go demented with worry. I for one am usually rooting for the kidnappers.Natalie Portman’s Mathilda is the antithesis of these namby-pamby Dawson’s Creek actors-in-waiting. For starters, she has something justifiable to gripe about, in that her entire family has just been slaughtered by Gary Oldman and his gang of crooked DEA officers. This is a bit of a blow, to say the least, but Mathilda takes it all in her stride and teams up with Leon in a bid for revenge. So begins one of the stranger relationships in silver screen history, but one of the most memorable.
On the face of it, a love story between a twelve year old girl and a hairy French hitman would raise a few eyebrows among more conservative movie-goers, but director Luc Besson handles it so beautifully, it seems like the most natural thing on earth. They are united in being totally alone in the world – indeed, the scene where Mathilda walks quietly down the corridor past the carnage in her apartment and knocks on Leon’s door, imploring him in a tearful whisper to let her in is as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking. Leon is wary at first, but she soon wins him round and starts to gently bring him out of the shell.Portman is truly astonishing – one can almost forgive her for being a part of the appalling Star Wars prequels on the strength of this one performance. The iconic image of this tiny, grubby little girl clutching Leon’s beloved plant and trotting to keep up with her lanky hero’s giant strides is one that will live long in the memory.Aiello and Oldman (at his sadistic, malevolent best) provide predictably excellent support, there is a wonderfully suspenseful yet satisfying ending – heck, there’s even a decent Sting song playing over the credits – for this (if nothing else) it would be remiss of me to give Leon anything other than top marks. 8.0/10