Léon: The Professional (1994)

Get ready for some spectacularly violent male bonding – Léon: The Professional brings together hitman protagonist Léon and 12-year-old Mathilda in 90s New York City. After her family is murdered by corrupt DEA agent Stansfield, Mathilda turns to introverted assassin Léon to teach her his deadly skills so she can exact revenge. Luc Besson directs this kinetic tale of innocence lost through his uniquely twisted lens.

From the striking opening shots of Léon meticulously assembling his weapons, Besson submerges us in Léon’s world with stylish flair. The detailed costumes, grimy sets, and breakneck editing quickly establish his gritty aesthetics. Michael Mann collaborator Stuart Baird keeps the pace electric. And Eric Serra’s unorthodox score highlights the warped emotions bubbling under the surface. It all coalesces into Besson’s offbeat vision.

Of course Jean Reno is pitch-perfect casting for the awkwardly endearing title hitman. With subtle glances and gestures, he conveys Léon’s repressed trauma and flicker of fatherly love for his scrappy protégée. And Natalie Portman rightfully launched to stardom as the precocious Mathilda. Her mix of vulnerability and stubbornness wins your heart. Gary Oldman chews the scenery wildly as Stansfield, but it suits the lunatic villain.

Now I won’t spoil Besson’s audacious storytelling choices! But suffice to say, pairing a world-weary assassin with a revenge-driven 12-year-old girl creates wickedly funny and touching moments. Besson has a knack for combining disturbing themes with oddball heart. And the action sequences still wow through seamless build-ups and choreography. It all detonates in an operatic climax.

Is Léon problematic in its blasé mix of child murderers and shock violence? Undeniably. But Besson intentionally subverts action movie tropes by viewing them through Mathilda’s innocent eyes. The film provokes more than endorses. And Léon’s hidden inner life reveals itself through his connection to Mathilda. Their relationship pushes boundaries yet feels poignant.

Upon release, Léon brought divisive reactions for its unconventional elements. But over 25 years later, its singular vision wins out. Besson crafted a stylish fable celebrating gentle human connections in the most extreme circumstances. And it remains his most fully realized and rewatchable film.

In closing, I highly recommend spending some quality time with Léon and Mathilda – just don’t get on their bad sides! Let Besson take you on a darkly heartfelt tale of trauma and retribution unlike any other. Come witness the birth of Natalie Portman and savor Gary Oldman’s deliciously unhinged villain. Léon remains uniquely thrilling indeed.

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