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The original Leon was truly excellent - typical of most Luc Besson films, full of style, drama, dry wit & European subtleties.
The main story is quite ordinary really. Three principle characters:
Leon (Jean Reno):- is the cleaner, or hitman. Very good, very professional, very deadly. And yet he has become more and more detached from the real world - all he knows is a world of killing, exercise and shady deals.
Matilda (Natalie Portman):- lives with her brutish stepfather and his family. She has no true family except for her 4 year old brother. Other than that she goes through her daily 12 year old existence by being bullied & slapped around.
Stansfield (Gary Oldman):- a police detective who now believes the grass is very much greener on the other side, and has become a drug dealer while still holding down his cop side.
One day Matilda returns from a shopping trip to find her horrid step family gunned down by Oldman and his crew. She's shocked but remains indifferent to the killings, until she finds out they've also shot her true brother.
She has no where to go and Stansfield still hasn't finished with his killing spree realising from a family photo that only Matilda remains alive.
All this is watched through the spyhole of Leon's front door. He too is startled but like Matilda remains indifferent.
She walks down the corridor and rings his doorbell anguish desperately written all over her face for him to let her in. The question is, will he?
And this is where the story really gets interesting. Yes we can see its going to be a movie about revenge & justice, but the two characters are like Romeo & Juliet, star crossed lovers, although very much in a missing father-daughter sense.
The story moves on at a steady pace with Matilda & Leon teaching each other their respective skills. He shows her how to kill with a rifle; she shows him how to read & write.
The ending is quite explosive, literally, but also very sad & moving. Just when you think the two have truly found each other it goes horribly wrong.
The original film is, as I say, very good, but is also naggingly incomplete. There are too many loose ends in the mid section and we're never really sure how the relationship between Leon & Matilda develops so quickly.
However, its only now, some 6 years on do we find the answer to our mystery. Besson has released a Director's Cut, which adds about 30 minutes of character development missing from the middle of the first. Only trouble is, the DC version is only currently available in France & Japan.
But such was my desire I went over to Paris and saw it at a full moviehouse. And what a difference. The mid section offers true evidence of Matilda's revenge tutored by the fatherly Leon, but there's also a slightly darker area, which may explain why it wasn't kept in the original version.
Even in the original there are subtle hints of something more than just a father/daughter relationship going on between the two, but this is investigated much further in the DC when you have this worrying thought as to how far Besson is willing to push Portman.
Happily nothing comes of it, but the extra minutes do add a few more answers to an otherwise excellent movie. Reno is, as always a joy to watch, and seems to have reprised his role from the earlier Besson movie Le Femme Nikita (See review by my boyfriend, Sonatine, pretty please :o)).
Oldman is perhaps a slight weak link, playing his role far too over the top to be taken seriously, which is a great shame, because he was quite excellent in Besson's latter film, The 5th Element.
But the true honours have to go to Portman, her first leading role for a girl of only 12 at the time. I'm still amazed how she wasn't nominated for an Oscar. Even more so when one now considers how she hasn't really been allowed to develop her considerable talent in latter films, including Star Wars - Phantom Menace and Heat.
If you want an example of her divine acting talent look for the scene near the start. Ringing Leon's doorbell and the tearful expression on her face as she silently begs to be let in while a hitman looks on!
I sincerely hope Leon - the Director's Cut becomes more widely available. For me its Besson's best film and well worth owning.
Well written op (as expected) I neeeeeeeeed the Directors Cut
seteo 28.01.2001 18:18
That is one of the best opinions I've read to date, very informative and very well balanced:) . I completely agree with the below comment. I really enjoyed the original cut of Leon and the extra footage in the this releases are simply superb. Part of the beauty of the theactrical version was the viewers real uncertainty of the relationship between the two main characters, and one of the 'cut' scenes seems to push this a little too far than needed to be when Matilda tells Leon how she feels for him.