If someone were to ask me what my top 10 favorite movies of all time were, I would have to respond by saying, "I don't know, but 'LÉON: The Professional' is definitely high on that list." Actually, that was an incredibly corny way to tell you that I really love Luc Besson's "LÉON", but hey, that's why I'm the reviewer and you're not. Ah, you've got to love life sometimes…
Now, before I get into the review of "LÉON: The Professional", let me please make note that this is the Uncut International Version that restores 24 minutes of additional footage that radically helps to pad out the relationship between Léon (Jean Reno) and Mathilda (Natalie Portman). With that out of the way, I am honored to be able to review "LÉON" for DVDTalk.
Léon is a professional "cleaner" (slang for hitman). Being an immigrant from Italy who hasn't adopted to American culture, Léon lives alone, save for a potted plant he meticulously takes care for. Despite being a so-called "cold blooded killer", Léon is an extremely sympathetic figure, lacking anyone in his life he can love, or even call his friend. Mathilda is a 12-year-old girl who lives in the same apartment building as Léon. Her abusive father runs drugs for a crooked DEA boos, Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Despite living a few doors down from each other, Mathilda and Léon rarely ever exchange a meaningful word … even when she is covered in bruises smoking a cigarette in the stairwell.
Some have said that "LÉON: The Professional" marks the pinnacle of Luc Besson's body of work. For those out there that feel that way, I whole-heartedly agree with you, but am willing to take it a step further. I, for one, feel that "LÉON" marks the pinnacle of Gary Oldman's mesmerizing career. As the viscously tired, pill-popping Norman Stansfield, Oldman plays one of the most memorable characters I have yet to see. Along with his "zest" for eliminating anyone who crosses him, his violent obsession with classical music is among one of the cooler traits a villain has ever possessed, as. Trust me, Gary Oldman is gold here. The same also goes for Natalie Portman, who at only 12-years-old, possesses the talent that most adult actors could ever dream of having.
While out getting groceries for her family, the DEA, lead by Stansfield breaks into Mathilda's residence, and murders her family… including her 4-year-old brother. Knowing something is terribly wrong as she walks towards her apartment, she walks past it, and knocks on Léon's door. After thinking about it for a few minutes, Léon opens his door and takes her in (this is one of the strongest scenes in the movie). In the days and weeks that follow, Mathilda and Léon develop an unusual bond, all centered around Léon teaching Mathilda how to "clean" so she can get revenge on the men who murdered her brother.
I refuse to give away any more of the movie. See "LÉON: The Professional" immediately if you've never seen it. See "LÉON: The Professional" again if you've only seen the initial DVD release that lacks the additional 24 minutes. If you don't like it, feel free to e-mail me and make fun of me.
Columbia Tri-Star presents "LÉON: The Professional" in Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1. The color palette utilized feels a bit washed out at times, but in actuality, it adds an element of grittiness to the film, creating an atmosphere that accurately represents Little Italy. The print shows very few instances of dirt, and there is essentially no pixelation or artifacting present. Although not reference quality, this is one of the better transfers I've seen from Columbia Tri-Star.
The audio is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. The 5.1 sounds really good, as it takes nearly full advantage of my system. The haunting score adds a feeling of tension that will get your heart pumping. Gunshots and explosions also sound amazing. Dialogue is crisp and clean, and there no audio dropouts whatsoever (please note, the original release of "LÉON: The Professional" had a defective 5.1 track, but Columbia Tri-Star has since fixed the problem. Just make sure the back of the box says "Newly Created English 5.1 (Dolby Digital).
Static DVD menu offers the following choices: "Play Movie", "Audio Set-Up", "Subtitles", "Scene Selections" and "Special Features."
I was really hoping for more extras, especially in the form of at least one commentary. What Columbia Tri-Star gives us instead is are a couple of trailers and promotional materials. "International Ad Campaigns" is a collection of movie posters from all around the globe that were used to promote "LÉON: The Professional."
Next up is the ability to activate the "Isolated Movie Score" while watching the movie. Also, there are "Talent Files" present for Luc Besson, Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman.
And last, but certainly not least, are the "Theatrical Trailers" for "LÉON: The Professional", "The Big Blue", and "The Story of Joan of Arc"… Three movies made by Luc Besson. I'm surprised one for "The Fifth Element" wasn't also included.
Kudos to Columbia Tri-Star for releasing the restored version of "LÉON: The Professional" on DVD. Despite the lack of any significant special features, the good audio and video transfers more than make up for it. Honestly, had this DVD had a commentary or a few featurettes, you'd be looking at DVDTalk's newest addition to the Collector's Series line. As a result, I am more than comfortable giving this DVD a "Highly Recommended."