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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Leon—The Professional (Uncut International Version) (1994)

"No women. No kids. That's the rules."
- Leon (Jean Reno)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: September 27, 2001

Stars: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman
Other Stars: Danny Aiello
Director: Luc Besson

Manufacturer: Columbia/Tri-Star Studios
MPAA Rating: R for Strong graphic violence and language
Run Time: 02h:12m:40s
Release Date: October 03, 2000
UPC: 043396061965
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When released theatrically in the U.S. in 1994, this film was known simply as The Professional. It was marketed poorly, and also suffered the creative indignity of having 24 minutes of critical footage removed. Despite having to excise nearly 30 minutes of plot for a U.S. release, director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Big Blue) was still able to deliver a uniquely touching, violent tale of a hit man and a little girl. In the fall of 2000, Columbia TriStar came to their senses and released this fine DVD—the full, uncut international release—under it's original title Leon. What a wonderful difference those 24 minutes make.

Leon stars Besson regular Jean Reno as the title character. Leon is a "cleaner"—a hit man, living alone in a simple New York apartment, working for Tony (Danny Aiello), who issues Leon's hits from his always vacant Italian restaurant. As we learn in the opening sequence, Leon performs his work with an almost superhuman quality. With his black trench coat, tiny round sunglasses, and black skullcap, he is a killing machine laden with a seemingly unlimited arsenal.

The action shootout sequences are great , marred only by the fact that characters are able to fire untold Uzi clips, shotgun blasts, and hand grenades in New York apartments without nary a neighbor, police or other intrusion. But it is after the carnage that the real story begins, as we see Leon shuffle back to his apartment, stopping for his usual two quarts of milk, lugging his oversize satchel of weapons like a weary salesman.

Reno and his hooked nose, droopy eyes, permanent stubble, and thick Italian accent, is the antithesis of a leading man, yet he makes a menacing hit man. But without his guns, he becomes a tired, simple man who takes great pleasure in tending to a plant he considers his "best friend" and taking long showers in an attempt to wash away the memories of what he must do for a living. It is rare to see a film portray what happens after the hit, when the gun-for-hire goes home, and in Leon we see a very real person bound by violence, yet living a very modest life.

We are introduced to Mathilda (Natalie Portman), the 12-year-old daughter of Leon's neighbor, sneaking a smoke in the apartment stairwell, as Leon returns from 'work.' Mathilda is intrigued by the silent Leon, and later in the film, after her family is brutally murdered in a drug deal vendetta by psychopathic DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), does she seek refuge with Leon.

Having nowhere to go, she begs Leon for a place to stay, and in exchange for cleaning his apartment, for him to teach her to be a hit man. Against his will, Leon allows the girl to live with him, and it is the story of their unusual relationship that escalates Leon to a level above and beyond standard Hollywood fare.

This was Portman's (Queen Amidala from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace) screen debut, and she dominates every scene she is in. She is tough and mouthy, yet her maturity is just a mask worn by a scared, lonely little girl. It is the way Portman effortlessly dances between adult and child that proves her skill as an actress, and not simply a "child star."

Leon, as a begrudging tutor in the ways of death, becomes much more to Mathilda, and it is the previously deomestically unseen 24 minutes that adds a greater depth to their affiliation. I felt as if I were viewing an entirely new film, one that dares to touch on subjects apparently deemed too taboo for pabulum fed U.S. audiences in 1994. The story of a grown man living with a 12-year-old girl, in a relationship that simultaneously runs the gamut from father-daughter to husband-wife.

Gary Oldman, as the villainous Stansfield, gives us another unforgettable character from his repertoire of screen wackos. I think in the hands of any other actor, Stansfield may have come across as a cartoon, but Oldman is able to imbue the character with that crazy-eyed fervor that seems disturbingly all too real. However, even as the villain, Stansfield takes a backseat to the heart of the film—that of Leon and Mathilda.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has done a fine job with the image transfer of Leon. Colors and contrast are used effectively by Besson throughout the film, and this impressive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer reflects them lovingly. Mathilda's brightly mismatched outfits are rich and vibrant, while Leon's apartment radiates a muted tone that mirrors his simple, dark lifestyle. Solid black levels prevail throughout. However, a couple of the outdoor scenes seem a bit washed out, in relation to similar scenes, which slightly detracts from the overall transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There is nothing exceptional about either the DD 5.1 or the DD 2.0 tracks. Not that there is anything wrong, mind you. Dialogue is crisp and clear in both, even with Leon's thick Italian accent. Gunfire and explosions boom and thunder like they should. Eric Serra's score, while not entirely memorable, is delivered with a full, rich transfer, and is also available to enjoy on this DVD with an isolated score option. While not in the caliber of other top-heavy premium audio showcase DVDs, the less than noteworthy audio transfer does not detract at all from Leon.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Big Blue and Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc
Isolated Music Score with remote access
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. International Ad Campaigns - a collection of still images depicting the Leon theatrical movie poster from Korea, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Sweden
Extras Review: There are no substantial extras to speak of on this disc. Trailers are commonplace, and barely deserve the 'special feature' moniker. The isolated music score is nice, but seems slightly out of place and unnecessary. The international ad campaign is not really much, basically a series of still images of Leon posters in different languages. A Besson-Reno-Portman commentary track would have made this a flawless release, but that's just wishful thinking on my part. The film, in all its uncut glory, is the true treasure. Leon the film is a completely satisfying experience, which left me with no disappointment over the lack of quality extras.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Leon is one part action movie, one part love story, and it is truly wonderful. The plot flaws are easily overlooked (can you really walk into a DEA office, shoot a few guys and walk out?) thanks to great performances by Reno and Portman. Oldman chews up the scenery as the psycho DEA agent Stansfield, and he provides the character with enough quirks and idiosyncrasies to create a memorable screen villain. But it is the story of Leon and Mathilda's strange relationship that makes this film a must see, and a disc to own.


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