Released over 23 years ago, I sometimes forget that LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL is technically a hitman movie. Over the last two decades, we’ve become so inundated with movies about hitmen that they’ve become boring and stale, usually involving the same basic plot outline. But LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL doesn’t belong in those conversations and even though there’s a few great action scenes, the movie is so much more.
Jean Reno delivers his career defining performance as Leon, a reclusive hitman that reluctantly begins to look after Mathilda. Mathilda’s entire family had just been murdered thanks to her father’s criminal dealings and her sorrow turns to anger when she learns what Leon does for a living. Once the two team up, director Luc Besson takes the audience on an emotional, funny, sad and exciting journey as Mathilda seeks revenge and Leon wrestles with the moral mine field he finds himself in.
There are many things to love about LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, but the film succeeds by focusing on the relationship between Leon and Mathilda. I’m always impressed when a film manages to explore the intricacies of an asexual relationship successfully and LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL does it almost perfectly. Thanks to an incredible performance from a young Natalie Portman (her first feature film role) we instantly feel sorrow for Mathilda. Jean Reno has been pigeon holed into villain roles, but here he portrays Leon as strong and violent, yet somehow vulnerable when it comes to helping a little girl in need. Together, they play off each other perfectly and their unusual friendship is captivating. When you add in the villainous performance from Gary Oldman, every performance in the film clicks.
In the mid 90’s, directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Guy Ritchie, John Woo and others were making names for themselves by directing fast paced, exciting action sequences. Luc Besson inserted his own flare with LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, but it’s the context of the violence that made his a little different from the other directors. Mathilda’s presence in this dark, evil world gave more meaning to Leon’s work because it wasn’t just stylized violence without purpose. Although Besson took the audience on an enjoyable ride, he never let the audience forget that real people were involved and victimized along the way.
LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL is the kind of film I wanted Luc Besson to keep making. Although he’s made some decent films since this, I don’t think he has been able to live up to the promise he showed here. With Leon, he delivered a film that was both exciting and emotionally powerful, bringing the audience into a violent world through the eyes of a vulnerable child. I think he has more films like this in him, but until then, we’ll have to settle for visually impressive films like VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS.
4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL just got a “mastered in 4K” release, which offered a nice bump in video quality over the 2009 Blu-ray. If you compare that to this 4K UHD release, the video improvements are going to be marginal at best. There are some subtle upgrades in clothing fabric and background clarity and most of the improvements are going to be in that vein. I think the dimly lit scenes are the source of the biggest improvements, thanks to the HDR, but in general, there’s nothing here that will make you want to show off your new set. But fans of the film that were wise to skip the “mastered in 4K” release shouldn’t hesitate to pick this up as an upgrade to their 2009 Blu-ray.
Audio: The Dolby Atmos track from the “mastered in 4K” release is included here and I love it. When I think of the benefits of Dolby Atmos, I think more precise sounds rather than over the top “booms”. With that in mind, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL sounds incredible.
This title was reviewed using a Samsung UBD-K8500 with a Sony XBR75X850C TV.
The 4K UHD does not contain any new features, but it does include a Blu-ray of the film, which includes all of the special features found on the original 2009 Blu-ray release.