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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.7%
Just Average: 2.59%
Pretty Crappy: 0.74%
Sucks: 2.96%

8 reviews, 222 user ratings

Leon: The Professional
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Family-values violence! Pretty damn entertaining."
4 stars

American critics have been unkind to the young French director Luc Besson (he's still only 35, and he made his debut in 1983), who had a crossover hit four years ago with 'La Femme Nikita.'

A blockbuster overseas and an art-house hit here, it met with some snobbery (Terrence Rafferty's entire review was this: "The end of French cinema as we know it"), and the American remake, Point of No Return, was similarly slammed. Have reviewers gotten so jaded, so reflexive in their disdain for any action movie, that they can't distinguish stylish, smartly-paced action from the latest dud based on a video game? Besson has now directed his first American film, The Professional, and while it's not great (Quentin Tarantino has forever spoiled us for movies about hit-men), it's hardly as offensive as many critics are saying.

The Professional is high-concept in a way that made me cringe whenever I saw ads for it: Assassin Leon (Jean Reno) takes orphaned 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) under his wing after slimy DEA thugs (led by Gary Oldman) murder her family. Twenty-five words or less. And the plot motor has whiskers; we know that Leon will learn to love and Mathilda will learn self-reliance. But the movie is cool about its subject. Besson likes to see what happens to killers-for-hire when domesticity is imposed on them -- Nikita endured charm school and almost became a housewife, and Leon is forced into a father-mentor role. Besson still hasn't taken full wing with this theme, the way John Huston did in Prizzi's Honor, but that was a comedy and Besson isn't a comedian. He's a brutal sensualist of the Walter Hill/John Woo school. Some of the sequences, such as an army of cops converging on Leon (in a faux-Scarface climax), are so hyperbolic they're funny; they're a relief from the artificial tension of the story, which rarely makes sense. An early image of sunlight slicing through bullet holes in a wall might be Besson's way of one-upping Blood Simple; Besson makes smoother American junk movies than most Americans do these days.

Overall, the movie is better than I'd anticipated. Given the sticky premise, it shouldn't work, but Besson believes in it -- either that or he believes in the big action scenes made possible by the premise (which amounts to the same thing). There's conviction in this movie, and intelligence. It's square, but not in the overstuffed way that StarGate is square. After all, what is Leon (who's simple at heart and illiterate) but a heavily armed Forrest Gump? Jean Reno consistently underplays Leon, and he has a great long face that fascinates the camera; he's like a scrawny Stallone, whom he often resembles vocally as well -- he has some of Stallone's pre-'80s sweetness, before Sly's spirit got as hard as his body. (Reno is most appealing when he's entranced by an old Gene Kelly movie -- he has the rapt expression of a boy watching his first Disney.) This soft-spoken but kinetic actor is a worthy vehicle for what appears to be Besson's new chosen theme (the headaches of an assassin), but unlike Nikita, he has no anger; that's reserved for Mathilda.

Probably thanks to Natalie Portman, whose film debut this is, Mathilda doesn't come across as a baby Nikita. She has more cause to be vicious and enraged than the nihilistic Nikita did, but she just wants justice -- though the Besson twist is that she wants revenge for the death of her little brother, not for the murders of her moronic father, stepmother, and stepsister. (The four-year-old boy's fate is about the only death Besson spares us.) Besson doesn't overdraw on her cuteness, though he is a little too stuck on Mathilda's romantic yearnings and alienation. As written, Mathilda is usually unreadable and sometimes idiotic (she marches into the DEA offices with a variety of hidden guns -- does she seriously believe she could assassinate the villain and get away clean?), but Portman somehow makes us understand Mathilda's eagerness to enter the same violent life that killed her brother. She's like the boy in Time Bandits: Life gets scarier and more exciting when an outlaw enters the picture.

The Professional keeps going on the power of its performances, but one actor threatens to bring everything crashing down. Is it my imagination, or has Gary Oldman started to gobble bad 'shrooms before each take? He was pretty funny as the corrupt, wired sap in last year's Romeo Is Bleeding, but that same oily intensity is used here to try to send shivers up our spines. Oldman is introduced with his back to the camera, a time-honored movie device to establish evil. And he's evil, all right -- so much so that I wondered how he never blows his cover. Oldman's gelatinous performance throws the film out of whack; you can't believe that this pill-popping ding-dong would inspire loyalty among his partners in crime. He's a cartoon bad guy with a set of fancy traits; he listens to Beethoven before moving in for the kill -- a nod to A Clockwork Orange, I guess.

Besson's characters have names, but they don't really need them. Besson treats them as action-film archetypes: The Hit-Man, The Girl, The Bad Cop. On the evidence of this movie and Nikita, Luc Besson seems to want to do for the action genre what Sergio Leone did for Westerns in the '60s: inflate the clichés, present them with an air of parody, and yet honor the genre. Essentially, I've seen The Professional a few times before; its closest antecedent is John Cassavetes' Gloria, from 1980, about a little boy who runs afoul of gangsters and is protected by a tough female detective. In that movie, there was some wit in the way Gena Rowlands rolled her eyes at the kid's budding machismo. The Professional goes back to the films Gloria poked fun at.

Leon and Mathilda don't even go through the obligatory period of hating each other, then grudgingly bonding. The attraction is immediate and mutual (though, I hasten to add, platonic), and before long he gives in to her demands that he train her as a hit-girl. I doubt there's any calculation in this; like his contemporaries -- Tarantino, Spike Lee, Tim Burton -- Besson makes the movies he wants to see.

Sergio Leone was well into his forties by the time he made his 'Dollars' trilogy, and critics sniffed at those, too. Besson has years ahead of him, and in Jean Reno he may have found his Clint Eastwood. And if not Jean Reno, then Natalie Portman.

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originally posted: 02/01/07 23:10:15
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User Comments

5/28/16 Mark Louis Baumgart Absolutely fucking fanatastic, a classic in all ways 5 stars
12/22/15 Anne action fantasy could be great 2 stars
4/17/15 stanley welles brilliant, touching and confronting 5 stars
3/21/15 greg davidson LOL only retarded people gave this crap 5 stars 1 stars
2/27/15 ewoks top 50?????? no just no 1 stars
2/27/15 michael idiot film 1 stars
2/19/15 Chris Jarmick disturbing and a great action flick 4 stars
8/08/14 rain Powerful 5 stars
9/08/13 gene kelly awesome fucking movie, the sarcasm of this bullshit review notwithstanding 5 stars
3/17/13 iDub Excellent movie 5 stars
12/06/12 jimmy I must see this 5 stars
10/02/12 Frank Great. 5 stars
5/24/11 ruth total crap 1 stars
9/24/10 Catriona Nicol amazing film. i think you completely miss the point about oldman. he is fantastic as usual 5 stars
6/08/10 Flathead King A strange film whose popularity baffles me. 1 stars
6/07/10 Hannah this is an amazing film in every way and will always be a favourite 5 stars
2/06/10 art this was PORTMAN"S BEST!,her worst was AN EXOTIC DANCER in CLOSER! 3 stars
1/28/10 Jeff Wilder Stands totally on its own and does quite well. 5 stars
7/23/09 Steven M Gary Oldman's best film! great acting by all! plenty of good action scenes!! worth watching 4 stars
4/09/09 K. Sear And excellent and stylish piece of work (see the long version). 5 stars
9/22/08 don Crap 1 stars
7/29/08 the dork knight Portman will never make a better movie than this one 4 stars
5/11/08 oliberg Saw it yesterday, The story was AWESOME!!!! 5 stars
2/25/08 pkr the only role of nat portman, where i can love her acting. 4 stars
12/12/07 davidbobo20 Best action movie ever! Way better than Pulp Fiction! 5 stars
11/20/07 Anette Jean Reno is a very subtle actor, he has done a brethless interpretation of his part. 5 stars
10/27/07 Rick What is leons plant? 5 stars
5/03/07 Mark Davids Stuuning, Just stunning! There are no words to descirbe what an emotional enthrawling film! 5 stars
4/11/07 °è¿ø THE best, most emotional movie ever watched!!!! Finally found my favorite!!! 5 stars
4/07/07 Zinah The movie was a blast. It was truly emotianol 5 stars
2/13/07 Double M Brilliant story, acting and directing. Oldman is 1 psychotic, scary, hilarious (!) *beep* 5 stars
2/08/07 Raph Branca Brilliant, sexy, full of bullets. This is a classic film. 5 stars
2/07/07 David Pollastrini great early performance from Portman 4 stars
1/10/07 Atomix(1337) Absolutely legendary. The sexual static between Leon and Natalie only built intensity.GODLY 5 stars
12/25/06 johnnyfog Oldman is just pure fucking psycho. Almost shoots the old lady!! Legendary movie 5 stars
12/21/06 gemma excellent tesis 5 stars
11/21/06 M.Baratipour The best cleaner 5 stars
10/30/06 Karen Great film that connects personalities from different ages/spaces nicely. Great performance 5 stars
10/25/06 fds fuckin awesome! SEE IT 5 stars
8/10/06 Sepi53 terrific 5 stars
5/30/06 Maka Natalie 5 stars
5/11/06 SpyV Excellent characters, sexual innuendo a little uncomfortable, but A+ finale! 4 stars
5/05/06 MP Bartley Superb stuff - Reno and Portman are heartbreakingly good. 5 stars
5/04/06 dionwr Reno is awesome, movie is only okay 4 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A Where have you gone, Luc Besson? 5 stars
5/02/06 William Goss Jean Reno breathing = Jean Reno kicking ass = goodness 5 stars
5/01/06 David Cornelius Jean Reno kicking ass = goodness 5 stars
5/01/06 HBS-SH cold war kids 5 stars
4/25/06 Agent Sands Possibly the only truly good work Luc Besson has ever done. 5 stars
4/23/06 Aldo best hitman based film...kickass ending 4 stars
3/21/06 Gray kickass 5 stars
3/10/06 Indrid Cold Highly entertaining, fantastic acting, surprisingly heartwarming and affecting. 5 stars
2/27/06 I dig Flicks righteously bad-ass 5 stars
2/10/06 G beats the crap out of Godfather 5 stars
2/06/06 Michael A story with no point, but lots of action with a few laughs. 3 stars
1/04/06 me beautiful 5 stars
12/23/05 Denis DellaLoggia Absolutely the best, after ten years, no other movie comes to my mind so often, Natalie * 5 stars
12/15/05 Rami Michael A new style action movie with a great soundtrack 5 stars
12/05/05 Gene Carmean Worth seeing 4 stars
11/04/05 Furby One of the best movies I have ever seen 5 stars
10/24/05 Vladimir magical 5 stars
10/21/05 WQ the best modern movie, my all time favourite. you'll regret if u havent seen it 5 stars
10/12/05 alper wonderfull and best in its section 5 stars
10/09/05 Agent Sands Undeniably Luc Besson's best movie. 5 stars
9/18/05 Robs Favourite film of all time. Just watch it now. 5 stars
8/24/05 harman hogir 5 stars
8/11/05 ES Jean Reno and Gary Oldman = Best assassin movie ever filmed 5 stars
8/03/05 ^podo incredible.... 5 stars
7/02/05 Eddie The best movie ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
5/14/05 Indrid Cold Unusual mix of intimate drama and stylish action, quite juicy and entertaining. 4 stars
4/19/05 Hilda Love this movie. Very touching. Has perfect amount of action, drama, and comedy. 5 stars
4/13/05 Frenzy Relaxed end cool 5 stars
4/07/05 Heather this movie was the most amazing movie i have ever seen 5 stars
3/13/05 G-Man totally awesome 5 stars
3/08/05 Los Daddy This is what acting in an action movie should be like. I bought a plant after seeing this! 5 stars
3/06/05 Daveman Won't lose mainstream attention spans, won't disgust European film enthusiasts. 4 stars
2/27/05 mike great 5 stars
1/12/05 Tom Benton At the top of my "best films" list; Reno is great; I've never cared about characters more! 5 stars
1/05/05 Rick Poignant and exciting 5 stars
12/08/04 Kristina Williams jeez..Natalie's best movie 5 stars
12/01/04 Al Guy A great movie. 5 stars
11/26/04 Emperor's New Clothes Like aww. Whoever knew murderers could be so sweet? 5 stars
11/24/04 Gray great film 5 stars
11/13/04 Jack Sommersby "What do you mean 'everyone'?" "Eeeeeeeeveryyyyone!" 4 stars
11/02/04 Stevo I don't think this ,movie truly deserves this much credit. I mean, it's just OK 4 stars
10/26/04 Mark Simko Incredible emotion and loyalty within violent context 5 stars
9/15/04 Doc Shock Love this flick! 5 stars
8/16/04 Herolder A must see 5 stars
8/06/04 Monty The director was really connected...wow 5 stars
7/31/04 Elizabeth Absolutely Terrific Film 5 stars
7/17/04 legend A wonderful blend of drama and action. Should be a must see. 5 stars
7/16/04 Raymond Lee great movie. Love it. 5 stars
6/15/04 Killah Very Entertaing movie,if you haven't so it you should make plans to do so. 5 stars
5/07/04 James Escobar This movie kicked so much ass, I couldn't help hoping for a sequel. 5 stars
5/06/04 Nicole Pretty gory at times, but also very touching 5 stars
4/21/04 Shoegazer Cochise: In the original screenplay Mathilda (14/15)an Leon (30s) had sex. Still, Awesome. 5 stars
4/18/04 jack m. harsh and gritty,with great dialog and image. full of sexual taboo 5 stars
4/01/04 snow Superb.....no words.... 5 stars
2/24/04 AJ Real Pofessional....The best Luc Besson... 5 stars
2/09/04 john a bit far fetched at times but has wonderful moments 4 stars
2/09/04 patrick herbert paul;@zippo 4 stars
2/06/04 Mikey T A bit far out; and disturbing...... Very Good, though. 4 stars
2/03/04 Veronica made me cry! must see!!! 5 stars
1/26/04 Ultron Eh 3 stars
1/24/04 CC Quiet.....Shhhhh 5 stars
11/03/03 Sammy Best Jeon Reno movie. 5 stars
10/13/03 I Would Great film although not as good as The Killer and Oldman comes off as a laughable cliche. 4 stars
9/28/03 Harry The quintessential character development film. Unparalleled in execution! 5 stars
9/27/03 Gray best non porno frence style film ever 5 stars
7/24/03 Ron My favorite movie & best debut ever (Portman's) 5 stars
7/07/03 BadSwitch top notch 5 stars
7/06/03 Nicole do i even need to say anything? For gods sack man WATCH IT! 5 stars
7/06/03 Zelemont This movie was great. Amazingly great. 5 stars
7/06/03 Brian I love Mathilda. 5 stars
7/06/03 john_cord Choppy and monotonous. 1 stars
7/01/03 22 Bo Mo So Do j'aime beaucoup! 5 stars
6/23/03 Pete B excellent film but not for those who cant spell their own name 5 stars
6/19/03 Sammy Besson's best! Watch it over and over and..... 5 stars
6/07/03 InDenZ Slick, well paced and exciting 5 stars
6/06/03 ThisIsMOC Awsome. Great film. 5 stars
5/29/03 Kelli Awesome 5 stars
5/27/03 Andrew Carden Sappy & Overlong Drama Has Amazing Performances, but Is Too Contrived. 3 stars
5/19/03 Neo Fucking awesome. 5 stars
4/22/03 Peecmp Awesome, one of my favorite movies!!! 5 stars
4/11/03 Lozef Cepela In one word, it is interesting film from hand Luc Besson. It is best fim from all. 5 stars
4/09/03 Kelli Great acting 5 stars
3/11/03 Peeb Truly original in almost every way! It's a "must see" 5 stars
3/09/03 Nicole Pretty great movie 5 stars
3/03/03 Jack Sommersby Overlong and episodic, but the bravura action is unrivaled. Oldman is outstanding! 4 stars
2/28/03 k otto A film of lasting impacts 5 stars
2/24/03 Josh Really love it....I walk around carrying aplant now... 5 stars
2/18/03 Kyle Good movie. 5 stars
2/09/03 Jordi One of the best film I have ever seen. 5 stars
2/09/03 seldom scene perfect film 5 stars
1/28/03 wintermute Gotta Love Lolita's 4 stars
1/27/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer In my top 5 of all time. 5 stars
1/02/03 Getchell Awsome! And I only saw the USA (cut) version 5 stars
12/20/02 Ronny Is and will always be my favorite movie 5 stars
12/13/02 Michael Scaffidi Best Movie I've ever seen 5 stars
11/29/02 the 1st stoner of the apocolypse beutiful violence 5 stars
11/27/02 Kelli okay 4 stars
11/24/02 Mason I hated it, i got the urge to vomit a few times 1 stars
11/20/02 Bill Amazing, this movie has everything! 5 stars
11/08/02 R.Carr one of the best films i have seen.............ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 5 stars
8/28/02 Hessian Besson at his best. 5 stars
6/18/02 Roy Smith Oldman, Portman, Reno, Besson, Perfection. 5 stars
5/24/02 Charles Tatum An action filled character study?? 4 stars
5/20/02 Veronica Foxx Probably one of the best movies I've seen. Not much in the way of action but I was hooked. 5 stars
4/07/02 stoolie-bird gary oldman is the shit.... 4 stars
4/03/02 Dave MacDougall anything with gary oldman is worth seeing 4 stars
2/17/02 Clarance Tough movie...goddamn/ Great performances and plot twists 3 stars
2/04/02 ronny best film ever 5 stars
1/31/02 Alex badass movie 5 stars
1/30/02 Doug HBS seems to love it, but i dont. Portman was good though. 3 stars
1/20/02 Frenchie Strong, solid film. 4 stars
1/05/02 Magnum Craphole Pretty good but very overrated on this site. Oldman was great, though. 4 stars
1/04/02 Math & Metal Most violent movie that you still might get away with on a date :) Excellent! 5 stars
12/21/01 Neil It's really an excellent movie 5 stars
10/24/01 Karen Davis It was an exellent movie 5 stars
8/26/01 Christina The US version was very good but the international version is AMAZING. 5 stars
8/19/01 Dakamus Just.... fuckin' brilliant. 5 stars
8/16/01 Obi Wan Loved the DVD. This movie still packs a punch. 4 stars
8/06/01 daniel scene at the end where aiello yells at portman and she looks up at him, starts to cry- WOW. 5 stars
7/28/01 JesseL He was more believable in Godzilla - a hitman with a heart, how moving. 4 stars
7/27/01 Kelly Messenger Get the DVD version--has over 20 minutes of deleted scenes put back into the movie 5 stars
7/10/01 Roy Smith Hey Hollywood! Study this movie to see how it's done! 5 stars
6/16/01 Gaza The best film in the world 5 stars
6/09/01 Ben My favorite movie of all time. the beginning sucks though. 5 stars
5/13/01 John D. Rockefeller portman's best performance 5 stars
5/07/01 Desert Eagle a modern classic 5 stars
3/29/01 BART 8 out of 10; good 4 stars
3/27/01 Matthew Bartley Brilliance 5 stars
3/22/01 eazy e awsome must watch movie best line I HAVNT GOT TIME FOR THIS MICKY MOUSE BULLSHIT!!!!! 5 stars
2/26/01 Rune Kebab Kicks major Hollywood ass! 5 stars
2/25/01 skye cool 4 stars
2/25/01 DREDD Gary Oldman's best line "Tell them we were doing our job." 5 stars
2/23/01 protokol speechless 5 stars
2/10/01 The Deep Phantom The Best movie ever created. Natalie and Reno are UNREAL! 5 stars
2/05/01 Fenchie especially good considering its all french 5 stars
10/08/00 ricksung the file can make you cry 5 stars
9/19/00 Jeff slick and stylish 4 stars
8/23/00 Arjan Boekel A film that really moves you. 5 stars
8/21/00 Krang Apart from Star Wars this is the best hollywood movie ever made. 5 stars
5/26/00 The Bomb 69 portman is THE actress of her generation 5 stars
5/02/00 Mortis This film is so incredible , that words cannot describe its splendor! 5 stars
4/17/00 Nez Procter A masterpiece - Reno is superb 5 stars
4/02/00 G. Morgan Superb! Genius! Breathtaking! 5 stars
2/14/00 genevie if you REALLY understand the movie, you'd know it's about a love story caught in....reality 5 stars
1/10/00 Howie Eric Serra(music composer) will make you love this movie. 5 stars
12/25/99 Fortune This movie is ----> 5 stars
12/10/99 Kenton R. Riley Drop dead gorgeous cinematography, disturbing sexuality. Perfect cast. 5 stars
12/04/99 PervertedPixie "I like these calm little moments before the storm..." Brilliant, Brilliant. 5 stars
11/30/99 Fenris My mouth hung open from beginning to end 5 stars
11/16/99 Don Valdez One of the movie industry's best kept secret. 5 stars
10/28/99 ChuckEye Besson's best yet! 5 stars
8/26/99 FC Incredible. 5 stars
8/26/99 Azimat Storyline and characters is good. but there should have been more action 4 stars
8/23/99 Jeyatheepan Jeyabalan character, storyline and cinematography play together in one glorious symphony 5 stars
8/15/99 Gavin Ferguson An instant classic! A shame so many Americans missed it. 5 stars
7/15/99 GothamDK Reno/Portman/Oldman. 3 awsome performances. A classic, but I still like La Femme better.. 5 stars
7/06/99 The Bomb 69 ending was awesome but bittersweet 5 stars
6/16/99 Mr. Purple Fucking Awesome 5 stars
5/13/99 dbx mmmmmm action..... mmmmmm acting.... *drool* 5 stars
5/12/99 Benny Gordon Absolutely incredible. It will stay on your mind for weeks after you view this film. 5 stars
5/11/99 Robert Williams Unbelievable. Engrossing and compelling. Never loses its way and clutches your heart 5 stars
4/20/99 lucas jackson a fucking great movie,every body did a great fucking acting job 5 stars
2/19/99 Piz What fun! Reno is so cool, blistering finale..one of my sentimental faves. 5 stars
1/24/99 donkey_dew A Kick Ass Of A Movie.. 5 stars
12/07/98 Binky An awesome film that every film fan should find ASAP. Just superb. 5 stars
11/16/98 Jeff C. BEAUTIFUL See it tonight Really I mean that 5 stars
11/12/98 Jules La Femme Lolita 3 stars
11/06/98 Lord Of The Dunce A tremedous piece of film. Beautifully brutal. 5 stars
10/30/98 Silent Rob A vision of gentle brutality, and exchange rate family values! Beauty as a Beast! 5 stars
10/27/98 bizzy wonderful 5 stars
10/22/98 Joseph O'Brien A Five Star unforgettably beautiful film. Ms. Portman is a great actress. 5 stars
10/07/98 Maegs Beautiful piece of work. 5 stars
10/04/98 Negative Creep This movie changed my view of action cinema. I love it. Action films dont have to be "dumb" 5 stars
10/02/98 CaptNish Two words.....Natalie Portman....mmmm... 5 stars
10/01/98 spork-girl truly a good, entertaining movie. 5 stars
10/01/98 {{{OZ}}} Three words. Suck this, Hollywood. 5 stars
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  18-Nov-1994 (R)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2005


  02-Feb-1995 (MA)

Directed by
  Luc Besson

Written by
  Luc Besson

  Jean Reno
  Natalie Portman
  Gary Oldman
  Danny Aiello
  Peter Appel
  Ellen Greene

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