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|Leon: The Professional
This is not a film for sensitive politically correct thinking people. But if you like a good film, with humor and drama, you should see this film.“Leon The Professional” is a no holds barred action thriller about a professional hit man, euphemistically called a “cleaner.” One of his next door neighbors is twelve year old Mathilda. When her family is murdered, Leon reluctantly takes her under his protection. She asks him to train her to be a cleaner so she can take revenge on the men who murdered her family. A father-daughter (or uncle-niece) relationship develops between Leon and Mathilda.
"An action packed thought provoking film."
WARNING - In order to review this film and discuss its meaning, I have to reveal the ending. So . . . if you don't want to know what happens in the end, please don't read this until after you have seen the film.
Leon is cold, brutal, efficient, and methodical in his work. In the beginning of the movie he goes about killing with such deadly force that he seems almost like an unstoppable terminator. We also see this force in the scene in the DEA building, and then in the end where it takes a whole precinct to take him out.
He is not totally cold-blooded, however. Even when he is tempted to kill Mathilda (as she would be in his way), he doesn't.
Unlike many hit men in films, Leon is more sympathetically drawn. This makes it easier for the audience to identify with him.
Leon is not a social person. He prefers living alone and is somewhat obsessive and ritualistic. He has a very strict routine which he probably has to follow in order to survive (both psychologically and physically) as a hit man. He sleeps sitting up so that he can be more alert. He tells Mathilda that he has trouble with relationships because of a woman. However, he is able to relate to children, as seen in the scene with Mathilda and the stuffed toy pig.
One could say that Leon is irresponsible as he exposes Mathilda to danger. This character flaw may be due to his isolation from the real world, and his immersion in the world of violence and killing.
Leon goes thorough a significant character arc. He begins the film unable or reluctant to care for another human being. But at the end of the film he is able to commit to a relationship with Mathilda (father/daughter – uncle/niece) and he wants to settle down and have roots. He tells Mathilda: “You’ve given me a taste for life. I wanna be happy, sleep in a bed, have roots. You’ll never be alone again Mathilda.”
Compare this to an earlier conversation Leon had with Mathilda:
Mathilda: You love your plant, don’t you?
Leon: It’s my best friend, always happy, no questions. It’s like me, you see, no roots.
Mathilda: If you really love it, you should plant it in a park so it can have roots.
In the end, Leon realizes that he needs more out of life than his job and routine. He cares for Mathilda, is willing to sacrifice himself for her, and is able to commit to another person.
This is a significant change from early in the film, when Leon did not feel that he was a fully mature person. The following dialogue shows this:
Mathilda: I finished growing up, Leon. I just got older.
Leon: For me it’s the opposite. I’m old enough. I need time to grow up.
Leon is a complex character. On the one hand, he is a cold-blooded hit man, but then he watches sentimental movies. Also, he is pessimistic, as shown in the following dialogue:
Mathilda: Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?
Leon: Always like this.
When Leon first helps Mathilda, I’m sure some people may wonder if Leon is a potential paedophile. However, because of the way Leon behaved in the film, I felt total trust that he was not a paedophile. Leon loves Mathilda as a father or brother.
Mathilda is a normal teenager living in an abnormal situation. She is doing the typical teenage thing – rebelling and asserting her individuality. (Her smoking is an example of this.) Also, her desire to take revenge by becoming a cleaner is, in the situation, believable for a young teenager who may have poor judgement (not having the experience of more years of living).
She is bold – without any hesitation she shoots Leon’s gun out his window.
She has a crush on Leon. (This is very obvious in the beginning of the film when we see her preening herself before he comes up the stairs.)
Like many children she has the ability to take things in stride and is thus able to take the knowledge that he is a hit man very coolly.
She can manipulate situations. For example, she fills out a form to register her and Leon for a room (helping him to disguise that he can’t read), and puts another girl’s name on the form. Mathilda explains to Leon why she is doing it: “I’m putting in a name of a girl in my class who makes me sick. If things get hot, she’ll take the heat.” Also, she earlier works on Leon’s conscience when she tells him he is responsible for her life.
She is very clever. For example, she imitates several actresses when she sings in front of Leon; she apparently gives in to the boys who charge her rent, but is still able to come out ahead and put them in their place; and she is good at tailing Stansfield. However, Mathilda can make mistakes. For example, when she tries the Pizza delivery trick, she is easily found out.
By the end of the film, she has become more responsible, as shown by her going back to school voluntarily. At the school, she puts Leon’s plant in the ground. Her doing this represents her desire to have roots, (as well as symbolically showing that Leon finally has roots). She also was instrumental in bringing out Leon’s good qualities.
Tony is Leon’s mentor and employer. He is not totally loyal to Leon because, in the end, we see that he has obviously ratted on Leon. (Tony has been beaten up, and I assume the cops did it in order to get Tony to tell them where they could find Leon.)
Tony is practical and self-serving. He doesn't want or need to help Mathilda. However, he does care for Leon’s wishes as he follows through with them.
Stansfield is the antagonist. He is insane, creepy and obviously enjoys killing. At one point he says, “I take no pleasure in taking life if it’s from a person who doesn’t care about it.” He is a drug addict and always wacked out.
The story is a coming of age story. It is about the young Mathilda who helps the older Leon grow up.
The structure of the film is simple. The plot takes place over a period of about four weeks. It opens with a scene that establishes Leon’s skill. We then move to the next major part of the story which shows the development of the relationship between Leon and Mathilda and the development of Leon and Mathilda’s characters. The story then shifts to the end where Leon and the girl’s development is completed, Leon gets his revenge and Mathilda goes back to school. The film is Leon's victory as the girl survives and Stansfield is killed. (The victory is emphasized by Leon handing Stansfield the grenade ring and telling him it is from Mathilda.)
I found several problems with the plot. First, when Mathilda walks out of the school door in the end with the plant, I immediately assumed she had been thrown out of the school. (Probably because, in two earlier scenes, Mathilda and Leon were shown walking down the street with the plant after they were kicked out of their living quarters.) Secondly, there is also what I call the “anti-hero problem.” That is, in order for the audience to have sympathy for Leon, the people he kills are all bad guys. Also, part of his code is “no women, no kids,” which, I would bet, is probably not a standard code for hit men.
What is good about “Leon The Professional” is that, unlike many movies about hit men (“Grosse Point Blank,” “Whole 9 Yards,” “The Big Hit”) the film does not resort to comedy to make us accept the hit man or hit men.
Of course, hit men are not always presented sympathetically. (“Dusk till Dawn,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “Chopper” are movies where I could not identify with the killers at all.)
A lot of the dialogue in “Leon The Professional” is very clever. A good example is the use of the word “serious” in the beginning of the movie:
Tonto: It’s Tonto, downstairs. There’s a guy who wants to talk to you.
Fat man: What’s he look like?
Leon: Tell him I’m coming up.
Tonto: He’s coming up.
The fat guy then hears a shot, and we learn that Tonto is killed downstairs. The fat guy then says to his friends, “Somebody’s coming up - somebody serious.”
One important question that I wondered about was what Tony did with Leon and Mathilda’s money.
Tony (to Mathilda): He put aside a little cash for you. So what I'm suggesting is that seein’ as you’re still so
young, I should hold the money for you until you’re older. Like a bank, you know, except it’s better than a bank ‘cause you know banks always get knocked off. No one knocks off old Tony. But it’s your money. In the meantime all you gotta do is come here every once in a while and I’ll dish it out so you can have a little fun. (He gives her one hundred dollars.)
There is good use of contrast in the film. A few examples: we see Leon's professional activities contrasted to his later domestic activities, ie., looking after the plant. We also see the contrast between Leon and Mathilda in that Leon sleeps in a chair all the time, but Mathilda sleeps in a bed.
The film makes use of symbolism. For example, the presence of evil in the film is symbolised by what I believe is an old mafioso in the background in some of Tony’s scenes; Leon’s long walk before his death at the end of the film is symbolic of the walk down death row; and when Mathilda places Leon's plant in the ground, this symbolizes that Leon and Mathilda both have found roots.
Visually, this film was exciting to watch. I particularly liked the opening shot which changed seamlessly from a helicopter shot to a crane shot.
The sound on the region one DVD was excellent. However, a director’s commentary would have been most welcome.
The film used just the right amount of humor to provide comic relief. Two excellent examples are, one, when Leon has to leave his apartment because Mathilda has shot his gun out the window, and, two, when Leon and Mathilda are evicted from his hotel room because Mathilda tells the clerk that Leon is her lover. In both cases Leon and Mathilda are shown walking down the street with his possessions and his plant. The first time they leave it is funny, but the second time we see them leaving with the plant, it is even funnier because we have already been set up for the joke the first time we saw them leaving with the plant.
I believe the theme of the film is stated by Mathilda toward the end where she says, “Nothing can stop love, Leon.”The film shows us the dark world of the hitman. It is not a glamorous picture. Leon is poor, can’t read, has no possessions, has someone else manage his money, and, when we meet him, he is lonely and alone. Certainly not like James Bond.
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originally posted: 11/21/01 08:04:54
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