LÉON THE PROFESSIONAL: Luc Besson’s Masterpiece Hits 4K

Experience Leon and Mathilda’s Awkward Relationship in Crystal Clarity!

I just double checked his filmography to be sure, and Leon The Professional is Luc Besson’s pinnacle by a pretty substantial margin. As I prattled on about in my recent review of The Fifth Element, Besson is worthy of the overused descriptor of “visionary”. And while flashy sci-fi like The Fifth Element or Lucy are perhaps better vehicles to display that vision… the tricky character dynamics, remarkable performances, and thrilling action of Leon has never been topped in Besson’s 30+ year career.

There’s an efficiency and fearlessness to Leon. When Mathilda’s (Natalie Portman’s historic film debut) family is murdered by corrupt DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman in what remains one of his very best performances among dozens of greats), professional hitman Leon (Jean Reno in his most iconic and career defining role) takes her under his wing reluctantly. As Leon trains Mathilda so she can learn to “clean” and get vengeance on those who killed her family, a collision course between the three of them becomes inevitable. The character dynamics and plot progression are fantastic, and the action set pieces were among teenage Ed Travis’ very favorites (holding up quite well today).

Because this film came out in 1994 and was perfectly timed for teenage me to watch it at least a dozen times, this is a film burned into my retinas. For that reason I took the opportunity to revisit the Extended Cut of the film, which I’ve experienced far fewer times. It was clear what sequences were restored, and while it gives more breathing room to Leon and Mathilda’s relationship, it does cause the middle section to lag and makes the theatrical cut my preferred viewing experience.

That said, the Extended Cut accentuates the fearless and awkward relationship between our childlike hitman who is an innocent in all the ways of life outside of death-dealing, and this world-weary pre-teen who is emotionally stunted by her abusive upbringing but who has the street smarts of a seasoned pro. Mathilda is much more overt in her expressions of being in love with Leon in this cut. Her emotions swing more wildly and the painfully uncomfortable and simultaneously sweet unrequited love between the two of them drives the film forward (not to mention her profound trauma). A professional on the job, Leon has no clue how to raise a child… but his paternal nature remains steadfast even as Mathilda uncomfortably asserts her romantic love for him. These more overt expressions were wisely cut out if only because they’re effectively expressed in the shorter version as well.

Besson has written dozens of films, yet his writing isn’t his strong suit. Here, however, is his greatest script. The casting helps sell this unconventional film (two of our generation’s greatest actors anchor this thing after all), and the direction is stellar. But all of Besson’s tendencies as a writer somehow come together perfectly here in a way they do not in many of his other writing projects. Infantile humor clicks here because Leon and Mathilda are both innocents in a world of violence. Overt dialog is expressed with such bravado in Oldman’s case, or uncomfortable innocence in Portman’s case, that the script is elevated.

As a 4K viewing experience, Leon retains a classic grain which is aesthetically pleasing to my eye, but also makes it hard to discern if the 4K scan/treatment really made a massive or even obvious difference to the visuals. Whereas watching The Fifth Element on 4K seemed to pop in a heretofore unseen way, Leon remains a highly entertaining watch while not feeling like a release that is a “must see” in the 4K format. Fans certainly shouldn’t feel the need to rush out and buy this disc as both theatrical and extended versions of Leon have been available for many years now.

The Package

I don’t really mind, but I am noticing that many 4K UHD releases are bundling with a Blu-ray disc that is basically just a port of the old Blu-ray disc, complete with the older special features. That is the case here, with the below bonus features matching exactly with the previous release of Leon on Blu-ray. This approach allows studios to sell a new product with the fancy new 4K scan of the film being the major focus and feature of the release. It’s a perfectly fine approach, but one worth noting.

Disc 1–4K Ultra HD, Movie Only

Disc 2 — Blu-ray: Movie + Special Features

  • Cast and Crew Look Back
  • Jean Reno: Road To Leon
  • Natalie Portman: Starting Young
  • Fact Track (Extended Version)
  • Theatrical Trailer

And I’m Out.

Leon The Professional is now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Sony

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