Luc Besson is a fascinating director who seems to always have some sort of undertone that turns me off from his films. In the film “Taken” and “Lucy” it was the implied or open racism of heroes that made the films difficult to enjoy (even though the action was good) and for this film it is the undercurrent of pedophilia (even though there is a real friendship between the characters). In the instance of “Lucy” and “The Professional” there are counters to this within the film itself, but the fact that I experienced that from what the film was showing me in the first place automatically brought them down and kept them from being truly great films. The only film that hasn’t done this that I’ve seen by the director is “The Fifth Element” which I plan to review on a later date.
The film was directed by Luc Besson who also wrote the screenplay, and was produced by Petrice Ledoux.
The story is about Leon (Jean Reno) who takes in Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after her family is executed by the corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). After rejecting her at first he comes to be attached to her as he trains her to be a “cleaner” too as she seeks revenge against Stansfield for the murders.
The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is really beautiful and really gives you glimpses into the minds of the characters. From Stansfield’s insanity, Leon’s confusion and good heart and Mathilda’s anger. Thierry Arbogast did a great job on it.
The Soundtrack – Eric Serra did a fantastic job on the soundtrack too as it played up the meditative thoughts and glimpses into our characters’ minds. It fit the New York City atmosphere as well.
The Main Characters – Mathilda, Norman and Leon are all great characters. But the minor characters feel more like archetypes than characters so they’ll be listed further down.
Norman Stansfield – Gary Oldman is great at playing this psychopath. He hams it up so well as Stansfield who is a corrupt DEA agent who is making money off of selling drugs on the side and getting a cut of everything and isn’t above executing a family to keep what he does secret. He was so despicable and reveled in it and was so fun to watch. Sadly he is gone for a good portion of the film before the climax so we miss out on some more crazy moments we could have gotten or seen that he executes all the families of those who go against him or can’t deliver on the drugs. His death is rewarding, even though the wrong person got the kill.
Leon – Leon is the “Cleaner” who takes on Mathilda when she needs a safe place after her family is slaughtered. Both of them are outcasts and it is in forming a connection with her and being the father she never had that he finds his soul too as he has only been a killer for hire who refuses to kill women and kids until this moment. He transforms from their relationship and all the money he has earned goes to Mathilda when Stansfield finally kills him. He shows in the end he is a dark shade of grey, but a good guy. Though he has one issue that I wish the film had addressed that I’ll go into later.
Tony – This is the only minor character who felt like a fully fleshed out character, as he was a mafioso who was holding Leon’s money and held it very close while still always coming through whenever it was asked for and he does fulfill his obligation to Mathilda…though he also gives up Leon to Stansfield…so he’s flawed and complicated and I wish we’d seen him more.
Mathilda – Mathilda is awesome and I wish she had made the kill on Stansfield. She is at the very least physically abused by her step-sister, step-mom and father and her only relationship she cares about is her little brother who is killed by Stansfield’s men. From here she seeks revenge and chickens out when she first confronts Stansfield but does all she can to protect Leon when the men come to kill him. She sees him as her “lover” though their relationship is much more of a mentor or father one, but her saying that made it weird and hard to enjoy as she is 12 and he is in his 40s. She was still a great character though who endured a lot and found some semblance of peace when she takes Leon’s plant that she names after him and plants it in the school that she was kicked out of that accepted her after the events of the story.
The Cons: Disposable Thugs and Minor Characters – Stansfield’s men are like blank slates, which is a shame as they could have had more distinct motivations and personalities. They were just bad as were Mathilda’s family, they were selfish and abusive and that was the extent of their characterization. It was a huge missed opportunity.
Pedophile Undertones – Mathilda calling Leon her “lover” and Leon never saying he saw her as his daughter to counter it made their relationship really uncomfortable. Thankfully he doesn’t do anything sexual or I’d have hated this movie but it is still there as Mathilda calls him that and he does nothing to end that fantasy and establish boundaries. This undercurrent kept from enjoying the film big time.
Leon getting Mathilda’s Kill – The final issue of why I don’t consider this film great is Mathilda’s arc was that of revenge but she never got to kill Stansfield. She should have got that kill and learned from it not had others teach her that learning doesn’t mean you get peace, her lessons were given to her by others and she never got to learn them for herself. She should have killed Stansfield.
This was a good movie, though like Besson’s other films outside of “The Fifth Element,” troublesome. The acting is fantastic and the character interactions are wonderful too as is the soundtrack and cinematography, just know that the pedophilic undercurrent is there and that Mathilda is cheated out of getting her kill, though she does find some semblance of peace thankfully.
Final Score: 8 / 10