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on August 30, 2000
I own both the US and international versions of this film, and the international edition is much better. Both versions carry a slight sexual tension throughout between Leon and Matilda, and the uncut version is more pronounced in this area, but that isn't the reason to buy it.
The extra 24 minutes on the uncut version provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between the two as the film progresses. For example, in the US version Matilda never becomes a real "cleaner" or hitman. It's only hinted at when they shoot a jogger from a rooftop with blanks. In the uncut version, Leon takes her completely under his wing and teaches her the trade, including scenes where the pair run around killing bad guys and such. In the process, Leon teaches her the "ring trick" by tossing a grenade at a victim and keeping the ring and grenade pin in his hand. This scene sets up the final scenes in the movie in a way that the US version left short and unexplained.
If you enjoyed the US version, you'll probably love the uncut version more, if only because the characters and their relationships are much deeper.
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on August 28, 2000
French director Luc Besson ("The Messenger"; "The Fifth Element") made his U.S. film debut with this intelligent thriller of an Italian hitman who is untouchable. "The Professional" stars Jean Reno ("The Big Blue") who plays Leon, a professional hitman with ninja-like skills, who eliminates rivals for a mob boss (Danny Aiello).
After a corrupt cop (Gary Oldman) eliminates the family residing next door due to a drug transaction gone wrong, Leon finds himself the guardian of young Mathilda (Natalie Portman in her screen debut). Taking Mathilda under his helm, Leon teaches her the art of the "cleaner". However, danger lurks around every corner, and Leon must protect Mathilda from the same cops who killed her family.
Considered by many to be his masterpiece, "The Professional" was originally released internationally under the title "Leon". However due to the feeling that American audiences might find some material unacceptable, over 24 minutes of the film was edited out. Finally, Columbia/Tri-Star has made an excellent decision in releasing the uncut, international version of this excellent film in the U.S. as it originally was called in August 2000.
While the film's central theme revolves around Leon and his job, the subplot where Mathilda develops an attraction for Leon is reminiscent of the novel/film "Lolita". The chemistry between both characters in a father/daughter relationship can be intense, especially as we notice that Mathilda is in her puberty-stage.
Jean Reno is excellent as always, and Gary Oldman gives a chilling performance as Stansfield, the wicked DEA officer who murdered Mathilda's family in cold blood. However, the real scene-stealer in this film has to be Natalie Portman. This beautiful young girl radiates beauty and professionalism throughout the film. Her porcelain-looking skin, and her big brown eyes are well utilized in this film, making her character more childish, yet mature to a certain extent. Portman proved to audiences in this film that she was no flash in the pan, and in her subsequent films, she continues to be a scene-stealer. She is truly Hollywood's most gifted young actress.
In the international version, most of the 24 minutes that were left out in the film's 1994 release in the U.S. mainly involves both Leon and Mathilda going on "cleaning sweeps" where she gets first hand training in the art of assassination. The other half of these minutes focuses on Mathilda's attraction to Leon. Her persistent attempts to be intimate with Leon all fail, but we finally understand why Leon remains a loner when it comes to affairs if the heart. Some might be uncomfortable about the idea of Mathilda and Leon sharing a bed together, but Besson paints this scene as one involving platonic love and not sex.
In wrapping up, I recommend this film for anyone who enjoys a nonstop, high-impact thriller in the same tradition as the "Matrix," "Blade," or "Dead Calm". Luc Besson truly is one of the world's greatest action directors, and "Leon" captures his magic. An excellent, pulstaing film from beginning to end!
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on June 9, 2003
This is the story of Leon(Jean Reno), the highly efficient contract killer who's known as a cleaner due to his ability to kill you without you ever knowing he's there. He's cold blooded, but at the same time lovable due to his obvious innocence, seen as he affectionatly waters his plant and his love for milk. He lives a loners life until he meets Matilda(Natalie Portman), who was soon to change his life. Luckily for Matilda, she was running an errand for Leon while the corrupt villian and lead antagonist of the movie Normon Stansfield(Gary Oldman), and his group of thugs decide to wipe out her entire family, due to some drugs, which were cut by her father while he was supposed to be just holding them. When Matilda returns, she finds that her family is dead and turns to Leon for help.

When Matilda learns what Leon's trade is, she is intrigued, and convinces the reluctant Leon to teach her the ways of the cleaner. As Leon trains Matilda, their relationship grows, and to the dismay of Leon, she develops a crush on him, while at the same time he develops a paternal love for her. This is a great movie, from the action packed beginning, to the thrilling climax.
I definately feel that the uncut DVD version is better than the original version. It let's you see more deeply into the relationship between Leon and Matilda, and you get to see more of the "training" scenes, which show how Matilda develops from an unknowing child to a novice cleaner.
I'd also like to say something to the prudes out there that feel the relationship between Leon and Matilda is perverted. You see it as a sick man trying to take advantage of a young girl, but if you recall, it was Matilda who continually came on to Leon. Leon clearly tells her in one scene that a sexual relationship is not possible. And even then, it should be clear to anyone that Leon loves Matilda in a way that a father would love his daughter. I can clearly see this and I'm only 14. Apparently, there are a lot of low IQ people out there. The UNCUT, INTERNATIONAL version is the way to go if you want to see a more meaningful, touching movie. I'm a very cold person at heart, and this is the only movie I've ever watched that made tears swell up in my eyes. It's the greatest movie I've ever seen. It features a brilliant cast, and a touching, and very unique storyline.
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on November 29, 2004
Where to begin? First off, let me just say that this is by far my favorite movie ever. Regardless of what you think of my review you need to go out and pick this up.

There was a time when I judged a movie's merit by how high the level of information overload was. The more special effects, THX 3D blanket of sound, and larger-than-life characters there were, the better. Then I saw Leon and my perspective shifted considerably. I first saw this movie in my college dorm room on HBO. I only saw the first 30 minutes before I had to leave for a class, but I was intrigued. It would be another two years before I would decide to rent it and see what it was all about. When I walked into the video store I spotted a VHS titled "The Professional" and rented it. I later realized that this was the edited "American" version. A full 30 minutes had been cut! I was a bit pis/ /sed(apparently this word is censored...lol) off that some censors didn't think I would be able to handle whatever it was that was cut, so I went back the next week and got the Leon DVD, the uncut version. After viewing The Professional I decided it was about 9 out of 10 stars. After seeing Leon, I would have to give the Professional 7 stars and Leon 10. It's that big of a difference. Let me start by breaking the movie down into each part. You can read other reviews if you want a plot review, but I'll try to get a bit deeper with my review.

Acting

This is where the movie really shines. There isn't a single noticeable CGI effect, the "explosive action" is quite limited, and the sets and locations are pretty sparse. And what that does is let the acting take over. Every single part here is played beautifully. Gary Oldman might be a bit over the top in his role, but despite that it is fun to watch. Jean Reno plays Leon, the quiet introverted hitman, and is able to communicate so much with so little. He gives the impression of a cold and neutral killer and then switches to being a naive yet caring person.

But the real star here is Natalie Portman. This was her debut, and what a debut it is. Her interpretation of the semi-goth, edgy, seductive Mathilda is easily the best performance she's ever given. When watching the movie you never think, "Wow this actress sure is good." Instead you're caught up in the story and you see Mathilda as a real person, not just a great performance by an actor. Portman is able to alter the entire mood of a scene with something as slight as subtly arching her eyebrows. The way she delivers her lines is amazing as well. Her very first word is spoken to Leon as a simple "Hi". But she even says it differently than one would expect. In a later scene she tells a group of neighborhood boys her own age to leave her alone with the line "So go play someplace else, ok?". It perfectly conveys what's going on inside her. Everything about her performance is subtle yet powerful.

Cinematography

The look of this film is beautiful. There's a muted, low saturation, high contrast feel that really draws you into the world on screen. Interesting camera angles are everywhere but never overpower the elements they're filming. For a movie that takes place in such an average setting, the camera work really makes it feel like a surreal place all its own. This is the movie that was the transition for Besson from "French" films like la Femme Nikita to mainstream American fare like The 5th Element (shudder...). What we get is a solid American base with the aesthetic tone of French film. It's a great combo.

Music Score

As if the movie itself wasn't good enough, we also get an amazing score. Eric Serra perfectly takes what's happening on screen and translates it into audio form. With alot of movies like this you might expect just some "creepy synth tones" and drum loops, but you get alot more here. There are simple piano melodies, rich acoustic guitar, subsonic bass swells, and brittle organic drumming. Part of the score was used later as a full song on the soundtrack titled "Angel". With NINish drums and a hollow flute like melody this song encapsulates the feel of this movie better than anything else. It's hard to describe exactly how it does, but listen and you might get it. The final scene of the movie is an overhead shot of Mathilda that rises up to the New York skyline. This is accompanied by the song "Shape of My Heart" by Sting. They couldn't have picked a better song to close things. Somebody should seriously get an award for suggesting to use that song. It's synesthetic bliss between film and music.

The "Lolita" Issue

It's hard to find a review that doesn't touch on this topic. In the edited "The Professional" about 30 minutes of Leon/Mathilda interaction is taken out in an attempt to appease uneasy American audiences with more of an "action" movie. Those 30 extra minutes make Leon quite a different movie.

It doesn't take long for Mathilda to fall for Leon. All her life she's been neglected and she finally meets someone who seems to care for her. Her actual feelings might be the want of a father-figure, but her outward expression of those feelings is much more seductive. Leon is in a similar situation. He's a loner and when this young girl starts advancing on him he gets nervous. Despite his effort to turn her advances away he still can't deny 'some' feeling for her. All this makes for some interesting dynamics between the two.

Some people might read this and get turned off by the thought of a relationship between the middle-aged Leon and the thirteen year old Mathilda, but you really need to see the movie before you make that judgement. After a while you'll start to see the temptation that Leon is going through. I can't imagine there being a single guy who could watch this movie and not feel 'some' level of attraction to Mathilda. But that's the point. Her character is supposed to be sexually seductive. But she's not sexy in a gratuitous cheesy porn-mag way. There's more of a deep innocent undercurrent to her. You can't help but want to help her, to comfort her. I once read a review that said there's clearly an unspoken understanding that Luc Besson, Jean Reno, and every guy in the audience would take advantage of Mathilda's advances if they knew they could get away with it. I'm not sure if it's that extreme, but there is that element to it. Portman was later even offered the title role in a remake of the film "Lolita", which she turned down. There's no doubt that she was considered based on her work in Leon. In short, if things like this bother you, don't watch the movie...

Well, that's about all there is to say. This movie works on so many levels. It's downright annoying that it's marketed as an action movie in America when clearly that's only about 5% of the movie. This is a dark, dissonant, subtle movie and it deserves more than the "action" title it is labeled. Rumor has it that Luc Besson has written a script for Leon 2. Natalie Portman has even commented that she's read the script and is quite interested. And to top it off, she recently cut her hair "Mathilda style". Nothings confirmed, but I sure hope a sequel is made. I can't imaging it topping the first movie and given some of Besson's latest work (The 5th Element...) I'm a but worried it might flat out suck. But Leon is enough for me. Rent this movie. I dare you.
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on December 24, 2004
The Superbit version has the same extra scenes as the "Uncut International Version". Amazon has it accurately labeled, but the packaging is not obvious. Both are 133min instead of 110min. The non-Superbit version has a couple extras like theatrical trailers and talent files. If you want those extras, get the non-Superbit version. If you don't care about those extras and are more of a quality freak, get the Superbit version. The film content is the same either way.

Two scenes deal with Leon buying a dress for Mathilda. One shows Mathilda threatening to possibly kill herself (Russian roulette) to force Leon to admit he cares about her. There is a scene showing Leon taking Mathilda on her first cleaning job. Another involves Leon taking Mathilda to an upscale restaurant, and Mathilda makes a minor scene trying to kiss Leon and drinking champagne. Then there is a sequence where Leon takes Mathilda on a series of cleaning jobs. In a later scene, Mathilda implies that she wants Leon to be her "first", and then Leon tells her the story of his first love (and first cleaning job), and Mathilda gets Leon to concede to start sleeping (only literally) with her.

Most of the extra scenes start at around 68min. They are integrated smoothly and are fully finished; it sounds like these scenes were in the original theatrical release for European markets, so they're only "extra" to the U.S. If you appericate the film, the extended version is definitely worth it.
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on September 22, 2006
so I bought the two disc deluxe edition last night from barnes and noble after an exhaustive attempt to discover which version of this dvd is the best. The DE is not it. The Uncut International Version is the only version that has, to my knowledge, all the original scenes that were later cut for american audiences. Both the Deluxe Edition and the Uncut International Version have the same listed running time, at 133 minutes each. However, after watching the DE, I realized that they are not the same, that at least one of the controversial "love" scenes between portman and reno has been cut. Even though the scenes are perhaps a bit uncomfortable, there is a tenderness to them that ties the whole film together in a way that none of the cut versions can quite accomplish. I personally don't see them as anything too controversial and I don't really understand why they needed to be cut in the first place. anyhow, my point is this. Buy the Uncut International Version. It is the ONLY complete dvd version of this film. barnes and noble were even good enough to let me exchange my already opened deluxe edition after i explained the situation.
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on December 7, 2004
Jean Reno and Natalie Portman turn out possibly the best performances of their lives in this movie, and this says a lot for Portman, who was about 12 when she co-starred in this film. But I am getting ahead of myself...

Matilda's (Portman)entire family is wiped out by crooked lawman Stansfield, played chillingly by Gary Oldman, over drugs. No, Matilda didn't exactly have a great home life in that little apartment, but they killed her little brother, and this drives the young girl's thirst for revenge. Her own life is spared by a neighbor, Leon (Reno), when he lets her into his apartment as the carnage ends a few doors down. Leon is a simple, practical, clean living cleaner, or hit man. He and his plant live a quiet and necessarily lonely existence.

Matilida steals Leon's heart, however, and eventually, she convinces him to teach her the tricks of his trade. Their relationship is delightful to watch. The chemistry between the two actors and characters is the most natural I have seen in cinema. Matilda falls in love with the man, and though there are scenes in this movie that border on the disturbing, Leon never treats her as anything other than a daughter - a daughter that he loves and respects with all that he is. There is nothing sordid in this relationship, though as Matilda, Portman pushes the envelope just enough to make us hold our breath. Aside from that, Natalie Portman outright shines. Most actors and actresses struggle to be taken seriously in their trade for many years. Portman gets much deserved respect as a serious actress with this film alone...and at 12 years old.

Leon is complex in his simplicity. He is not the stereotypical Hollywood hit man in that he is some pretty, bad-boy with a Dentyne gleam smile for the camera and witty one liners. He is portrayed as a very real person who lives his his life as he does out of necessity because of what he does. And he does his job well, but it is a job and that is not all that defines him as we get to know him, and he opens himself up to a profound relationship with this child. He is bewildered by Matilda, and this is hilariously played out in the scene where they are playing charades. Leon has a big heart, and despite his teaching a child how to effectively kill people, you have no choice but to love him.

Gary Oldman delivers a notable performance. Some might argue that it was over the top, but he was amazing. Killing people, popping pills, sweating profusely through cold and clever dialogue, the guy is truly scary. He is honestly the stuff of nightmares, and manages to steal several scenes. He is evil personified.

This is one of the best movies ever made. No matter how many times I watch it, I feel as though I am watching it for the first time. I can't say enough for this movie. I gush with no apologies.
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on March 29, 2001
I originally saw this film about 5 years ago on video, and was somewhat surprised that I had managed to miss the cinema release! The quality of acting is strong by Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and Natalie Portman. In particular though, Jean Reno is most impressive, with often subtle, understated acting, which is emphasised in the additional footage.
Although another reviewer refers to this version as "The European Version," I hadn't seen the additional footage, which suggests the original release was cut for both American and British audiences. The added 24 minutes do change the feel of the film considerably, by placing more detail on Mathilda and Leon's relationship. The relationship no longer leads the audience to believe protection is the primary motive for Leon's `adoption' of Mathilda, love becomes the true reason, and although it considers a paedophilic angle, it brings into focus interesting questions about what - in particular non-sexual - relationships are permissible in our society, and between whom.
Apart from the additional footage the DVD is pretty short on special features, with just a handful of trailers, release posters and a quick bio of Reno, Oldman and Portman (and why isn't True Romance mentioned amongst Oldman's filmography?).
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Hot after his film "La Femme Nikita", in 1994 Luc Besson ("The Fifth Element", "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", writer of "The Transporter" films) would go on to work on his film "Leon" (Leon the Professional). The film was written and directed by Besson and featured music by Eric Serra ("The Fifth Element", "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", "GoldenEye") and cinematography by Thierry Arbogast ("Babylon AD", "Femme Fatale", "Kiss of the Dragon", "The Messanger: The Story of Joan of Arc).

The film would reunite Besson with popular French action star Jean Reno (Mission: Impossible", "Ronin", "The Da Vinci Code", "The Pink Panther") who he worked on in "Nikita" and "Le grand bleu" and would be the first major film for 12-year-old actress at the time, Natalie Portman ("Star Wars: Episodes I-III", "V for Vendetta", "Paris, je `taime"). For the most part, the film received mostly positive critic reviews but also some controversy as the film would feature an older man raising a young girl and teaching her how the life of a hitman. Let alone, a 12-year-old who is attracted to an older man.

"Leon the Professional" had an original theatrical release but there was an extended version (or Director's Cut) featuring an extra 24-minutes of footage which focuses on Leon training Mathilda but also the emotional connection the two have for each other. Both are included on the Blu-ray release and personally, I prefer the extended version as the screenplay focuses a lot on the friendship between Leon and Mathilda.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

When I first saw "Leon the Professional", I admit that I was happy. Why? Many films created between 1986-1996 and released on Blu-ray, some really look their age, transfer is not all that great or is very soft but for "Leon the Professional", the colors are vibrant, blacks are nice and deep and detail can be seen. The old buildings that Leon and Mathilda live in, you can see all the cracks and how old they look. It just seems much more clearer. Sharpness is great and the colors just pop. There is a nice amount of grain as well and no softness. This doesn't look like a film that is 15-years-old. So, needless to say...picture quality is fantastic.

Audio quality is equally impressive. Featured in 5.1 DTS-HD MA (in English, French and Portuguese), there are really good action sequences and gun fights that really utilize the soundscape from the front, center and surround channels. Especially during the final confrontation, the film sounds great. Music by Eric Serra also helps create the mood. For the most part, this is not an action film that is overly aggressive as most of the film is dialogue-based between Leon and Mathilda but for the most part, when the action scenes do happen, you'll definitely hear those gun shots, machine gun rattling, explosions really clear.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"Leon the Professional" on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
# 10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back - (25:09) A featurette released on the 2004 DVD. A virtual reunion with interviews with the cast talking about a film they made 10 years ago. How the film came to be made and how the talent were cast for the film.
# Jean Reno: The Road to Leon - (12:25) A featurette about Jean Reno, his personal life of him growing up and his previous works that led to him playing the character of Leon.
# Natalie Portman: Starting Young - (13:49) Natalie Portman talks about reading the script at 11-years-old and wanting to do the part despite her parents feeling it was inappropriate. Working with Jean Reno and Luc Besson and how she was able to accomplish those emotional crying scenes and more.
# Fact Track - Viewers can watch the extended version of the film with a fact track.

JUDGMENT CALL:

"Leon the Professional" is a riveting, action-packed film. And for those who are familiar with Luc Besson films, you expect intense gunfighting sequences and plenty of destruction. Granted, he has done a lot more of that now with recent films but back in 1994, "Leon the Professional" was entertaining then and 15-years later, continues to be quite entertaining now.

Jean Reno is really good playing those action, hitman type of scenes. He's a tough guy but Luc Besson knows how to utilize his character quite well in his films. Gary Oldman is always a fantastic villain and his character Stansfield is just repulsive. Murdering young children definitely made the viewer want either Leon or Mathilda to really get their revenge on him by the end of the film. And the way it played out, was well-done. But as Reno and Oldman were fantastic, Natalie Portman was incredible. The actress demonstrated in this film that she can be an actress that can excel in emotional scenes and for the most part, back in 1994, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that she would grow up to be an actress to watch for. Overall, great acting by the three main characters of the film.

As for the controversy which led the film to be cut for its theatrical version, I can understand where opposition groups were coming from. Mathilda was a child that was raised in a dysfunctional setting and she has been emotionally damaged that the only person that she sees as her savior was Leon. A man who lives in isolation and his best friend is a plant. But of course, there is a sense of sadness that broods with the character of Leon and somehow, these two find comfort within each other. For Leon, it's more of a friend, while Mathilda, looks at it her emotions as being in love. Nevertheless, for those who get disturbed by those scenes of Mathilda's emotional anguish (ala Russian Roulette) and the fact that Leon trains Mathilda on how to kill people (using a paint gun), there is a theatrical version included on the Blu-ray that eliminates those scenes and an extended version that contains those extra 24 minutes.

As for the Blu-ray, I just felt the picture quality was fantastic for an early 90's film. With quite a few 90's films that looks its age, the amount of colors and detail for on this HD release was great and the audio quality was also great. Fans of the film will definitely enjoy this Blu-ray release, especially since it has both theatrical and extended versions of the film.

Overall, a solid Blu-ray release for "Leon the Professional". Highly recommended!
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on February 6, 2002
This movie has, what I beleive, the best performance from a child actor ever, from a 12-year-old Natalie Portman. Her character Mathilda shows the innocence of a kid, and the depth of a person out for revenge. Why she didn't get an Oscar is beyond me. And this was her first movie.
The story is really good. A hitman named Leon (Jean Reno) helps a girl named Mathilda after her family is shot down by corrupt DEA officers led by Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). When she finds out about Leon's job as a "cleaner" she asks to be trained as a hitman to avenge her little brother's death. Despite Leon's concerns he teaches her anyway, but over the course of his teachings, Mathilda develops feelings for him. This is something the uncut version explores a little deeper.
I suppose some of the scenes were taken from the American release for their subject matter. A scene where Mathilda wants to take her love for Leon to the next level really gives a good insight into Leon's past. It dosen't lead to anything between the two, so I don't see why they cut it. Other scenes included are Leon giving Mathilda some on the job training when he goes on his hits. I can see where some groups in America could have protested that, but it makes their relationship more deeper and complex.
An outstanding film, you really should see this version to get the whole story. I highly recommend it, it is my favorite of all time. Luc Besson's masterpiece can be fully appreciated on this release. I've been hearing rumors about a sequel in the works. I can only pray it's true, but this film is a tough act to follow.
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