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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"You don't like Beethoven. You don't know what you're missing. Overtures like that get my... juices flowing. So powerful. But after his openings, to be honest, he does tend to get a little f**king boring."
DVD ReviewdOc's third review. Columbia's fourth DVD attempt. Léon has seen its share of print over the years, stemming from multiple releases, audio glitches, and controversial content. Is this film deserving of such attention? It's certainly a solid picture, featuring a unique, touching relationship. It also has enough bloody violence to affect even the most desensitized viewer. Luc Besson's strange dichotomy of sweetness and gore—a kind of unholy spin on Pygmalion and Paper Moon—continues to endure and gain new fans. It's arguably his best film (La Femme Nikita may very well take the top spot), but not without its flaws.
A plot summary may be extraneous at this point, but here we go. Léon (Jean Reno) is a cleaner. Not the kind that will polish your fine furniture to a rich luster, but the killer kind. He works as a hitman for the kindly, generous Tony (Danny Aiello)—your typical Italian mobster. In his spare time, he takes meticulous care of his best friend, a small potted plant, and drinks enough milk to keep the dairy farmers in fine digs for years. Down the hall from his lonely apartment lives Mathilda (Natalie Portman) and her abusive family. Mathilda's father gets in some trouble with a group of corrupt D.E.A. cops, led by the pill-popping, spastic Stansfield (Gary Oldman). In an orgy of violence, Stansfield brutally kills her family, forcing Léon to take in the young orphan.
With nowhere to go and no one to love, Mathilda latches on to the lurching Léon, whose demeanor begins as one annoyed, but quickly turns into a loving affection. Mathilda is convinced she is falling in love with Léon, but the killer quickly squelches her first sexual stirrings. Though the young girl is in some ways more mature that the emotionally frozen, yet genteel Léon, her guardian refuses to corrupt her. She eventually replaces his plant, and Léon decides to grant her adamant wish: to learn how to clean, and to get revenge. So begins the training, which will take buckets of milk, frequent moves, and a generous helping of friendship to see success. When Mathilda decides to take revenge into her own hands, Léon must risk his life to save her, and finish the job.
Luc Besson's tender, yet stunningly violent opus is something of a conundrum. How can a film with such tender moments of affection, juxtaposed with such bloody gore be effective? How can Léon, a supposedly ruthless, cold-blooded killer effectively convince the audience he has a heart of gold? What of the controversial sexual overtones between Mathilda and Léon (the French assure us this is okay)? Despite these odd and occasionally dismaying pairings, this film refuses to let go. It works, plain and simple. I still have a problem with the final sequence, which features gobs of innocent police officers going down in a hail of gunfire, but for all its questionable content, Léon maintains its head, and manages to drive home its focus: the relationship between a man who never left childhood and a child who had to grow up too soon.
Aside from the film's superb cinematography and musical score, most of the credit belongs to the fine performances by Jean Reno and first-timer Natalie Portman. Reno is thoroughly convincing as the kindhearted assassin, and Portman pulls off a stunning air of maturity and innocence in Mathilda. The two work wonderfully off each other, creating a dynamic, intriguing on-screen relationship that soars throughout the film. Gary Oldman has been criticized as being too over the top here. I find him fittingly so—the film is so over the top as it is, the villain has every right to be (and any villain that offers such unique insights into classical music gets my attention).
Despite some moments of bloody excess, Léon—The Professional remains a success. The reissued, "international" cut of the film, presented here, restores some of the more controversial and suggestive scenes between Léon and Mathilda, but none cross the line. As Léon's rules declare, he would never hurt women or kids. Too bad police officers were not on that list.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Bearing the small Superbit logo on the back cover, Léon shines with a superb anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. The image has a frequent amber hue, and looks somewhat desaturated, but this is all intentional. Colors, detail and contrast are superb. The occasional print defect does pop up, but does not distract.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is available in two flavors: Dolby or DTS 5.1 surround. The Dolby track is quite active in the intense action scenes, but stays rather front-heavy. LFE is sustained at the right moments, creating an engaging, realistic aural experience. The DTS track has been corrected from the previous Superbit release, and features noticeable bass.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition DVD, Monster Special Edition DVD, The Grudge, Renegade, House of Flying Daggers, Dead Bird
Packaging: Amaray Double
Disc Two begins with a 10 Year Retrospective (25m:08s), which is a detailed look back at the film through the eyes of cast and crew members. Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and other cast members participate in the reminiscences. Interesting anecdotes are brought to light, including some gun-related hijinks on the part of Luc Besson. Maiwenn, Luc's rather flamboyant ex-fiancée, tells of her love for the director at the young age of 15, and how the part of Léon was given to Jean Reno. New interviews are intercut with some archival behind-the-scenes footage. Gary Oldman and Besson are notable exclusions from this piece.
Jean Reno: The Road to Léon (12m:24s) takes a look at Reno's life, which began in Casablanca, Morocco. Reno's path to stardom is traced, including several previous Besson films. Reno himself offers some great personal comments and stories on Léon in a new interview.
Natalie Portman: Starting Young (13m:49s) features a newly recorded interview with the talented star, and some early screen tests for The Professional. Topics include Portman's protective parents (who asked Besson to change some of the more controversial aspects of the script), meeting Jean Reno, acting for the first time, and more.
All of these pieces are presented in anamorphic widescreen. Finally, a gallery of trailers for the titles listed above rounds out the extra material. This is a fine set that is worth an upgrade if you're a fan of Besson's work.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsLuc Besson's stylish and occasionally excessive opus has held up over the years. Its central relationship, carried on the backs of two superbly talented actors, drives its success. Columbia's fourth DVD release is a worthwhile improvement, featuring some informative extras. Recommended.
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