Luc Besson’s seminal 90s action thriller, Leon: The Professional, is getting a Blu-ray steelbook release to celebrate its 20th anniversary. This classic, blackly comic action film has proved to be controversial, highly influential, and features powerhouse performances from Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) and the young Natalie Portman (Black Swan) in her debut role. Featuring both the theatrical release and the director’s cut of the film, this special edition DVD brings new footage to audiences and features interviews with the lead actor and composer.
What’s it about? Twelve year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) lives with her abusive, drug-dealing father and dysfunctional family in a squalid New York apartment. Life isn’t easy, but it gets much worse when Mathilda returns from the grocery store to find that her family and baby brother have been killed by the psychotic, corrupt cop Stansfield. To save her life, she knocks on the door of their quiet, mysterious neighbour. But she doesn’t yet know that their neighbour, Leon (Jean Reno), is actually one of the world’s most dangerous and skilled assassins. Striking up an odd friendship in the violent world they find themselves in, Mathilda sets out to teach Leon how to read – while he teaches her how to kill.
Verdict: Seemingly the perfect distillation of graphic violence and dark comedy, Besson’s magnum opus is a fascinating thriller that is part action flick, part love story, part suspense, and part fairy tale. It all adds up to a visually stunning, slick, and stylish film that is as compelling as it is enjoyable and adds a few truly memorable characters to the canon of film. Reno as Leon pulls off the interesting dynamic of being violent, deadly, but ultimately lonely and lost. Oldman as Stansfield is captivating: skittering, jerky, and seething with menace, his morally corrupt presence is an endless source of tension and simmering trepidation. But Mathilda is surely the most enduring creation here and Portman plays her to perfection. A clever, spiky New York kid whose quiet fury at the violent, entropic world she finds herself in is a huge part of the soul of the movie. Funny, sharp, disturbing, and hopeful, it’s hard to find a film this violent that can capture all of those emotions at once, but Leon: The Professional does exactly that and more besides. You can’t take your eyes off it.
Making its way to Blu-ray, this film has survived being rendered to HD well. Having been shot on film, the characteristic film grain is still visible – which doesn’t always look good when digitised, but it looks good here – and there’s the occasional skittery frame, but for the most part the film looks fantastic and the detail is just stunning to see. In this special edition too, both the theatrical cut and the longer director’s cut are available. The theatrical version is just as solid a film, but the controversial scenes which were cut for US audiences undeniably add to the story and make the director’s version superior. With a running time that is almost 25 minutes longer, the extra scenes really pack a punch and getting to see more of Mathilda and Leon’s training and their friendship is priceless.
Extras: As might be expected with a Leon release, the extras are sparse. There is, however, an interview with Reno and another with Besson’s long-time musical collaborator Eric Serra.
Final Words: An instant classic and an enduring, stylish staple of the action genre, Luc Besson’s Leon is arguably his best work. Rich, fascinating, and filled with memorable characters, this ultra-violent story is visually stunning and weaves an unforgettable story of friendship in a brutal climate. The 20th anniversary Blu-ray is a must-have for fans.
The 20th Anniversary Special Edition of Leon is available to own on Blu-Ray Steelbook from 3 February 2014.