Luc Besson returns to the 101 Action Movies list, bringing the exemplary Jean Reno with him in a role that was inspired by his turn in Besson’s Nikita.
Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is an 11 year-old girl living with her family in a New York apartment building, she smokes, swears, and flirts with her blossoming sexuality, and comes home to find that her entire family has been killed by a corrupt DEA agent, Stansfield (Gary Oldman).
Seeking refuge with a neighbor, Leon (Reno), she learns that he’s a ‘cleaner’ and in exchange for doing the shopping, laundry and general housework, he’ll teach her how to kill, so that she can take revenge on Stansfield.
Thus begins an awesome action flick, and one of the oddest on-screen couples ever.
It becomes more uncomfortable for the audience and Leon after Mathilda reveals that she’s falling in love with him…
Leon ignores this, but takes the young girl under his wing and slowly begins to teach her the tricks of his trade, starting with the rifle, and slowly closing the distance to her target.
Reno, Portman and Oldman all turn in incredible performances, and the action sequences are stunning, especially the film’s final sequence.
Besson crafts a well-put together tale, once again telling a story about those who live on the edges of society in a world that we know exists around us, but rarely see.
Reno’s portrayal of Leon, while based loosely on the cleaner from Nikita, is a completely different type of cleaner. He’s a little more at peace with himself, despite sleeping in an arm-chair with one eye open every night. He has a plant that he waters and tends to daily, telling Mathilda that it is his best friend. I can’t imagine the cleaner in Nikita having any kind of friends, let alone a plant.
Oldman brings just the right amount of crazy to his role, and it’s always a joy to watch him onscreen, because he really is a chameleon when it comes to taking on roles.
Portman is simply stunning, and turns in such an incredible performance. It’s frightening to hear some of the things she says, and that’s the point of her character, when she talks about falling in love with Leon, trying to seduce him, and how she wants him to be her first, it’s supposed to make him and the viewer uncomfortable, and it does. She alternates that with her desire for revenge, the simple fact that she wants someone to love, and that she is just a little girl who can’t understand why someone would want to kill her 4 year-old brother.
Leon, in his way, does love Mathilda, teaching her his code, “No women. No children.” teaching her to shoot, taking her along on his jobs. These two broken people make a whole person, until Leon gives enough of himself that Mathilda can go on with her life on her own.
It’s a really fantastic movie, with a score by Eric Serra (It made me smile that I recognized the music for The Experience of Love instrumental, which would appear in another film Serra scored, and coming up shortly on the 101 Action Movies list, Goldeneye), and I tend to forget how good it is, and how involved in the story I get until I sit down and watch it again.
What did you think of it?