‘I like these calm little moments before the storm, it reminds me of Beethoven’
After opening the door to 12 year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after Stansfield (Gary Oldman), an unhinged corrupt DEA Agent with a fixation for Beethoven massacres her family, ‘cleaner’ Léon (Jean Reno) forms an unlikely friendship with his new charge. Stripped of his solitary dedicated 'professional' existence as an unfeeling mob hit man, Léon begins to care for Mathilda, reluctantly agreeing to teach her to ‘clean’ so that she can take revenge on Stansfield. But as Léon begins to lowers his guard caring for Mathilda, he also begins to lose his edge.
While most action movies are more concerned with spectacle rather than relationships, French director Besson brings some European sensibilities to this slick New York based film, investing it with charm and humanity. Mixing some impressive and inventive action sequences with a touching story of friendship, Léon is simply visually stunning and the developing relationship between Mathilda and Léon, a joy to behold.
Besson has assembled a great little cast, to populate his superior thriller. Offering the 'coolest French man on the planet' one of his career defining roles, Jean Reno is fantastic as the titular Léon, a naïve,emotionally stunted and illiterate hit man, simultaneously almost impervious to bullets, yet completely vulnerable before Mathilda. Gary Oldman relishes in his best (of many) psychopath roles and the film also acts as a fantastic introduction to Natalie Portman, as the adorable but sassy Mathilda.
Besson has crafted an artistic action movie with great characters, a heartfelt central relationship that is dripping in style. Artistic, witty and touching while flawlessly building to an explosive finale, Léon is a superior action movie and probably the highlight to Luc Besson’s career.