“In my stomach. It’s all warm. I always had a knot there and now… it’s gone.”
I always had a knot, ever since I heard of Léon: The Professional. And when my brother watched it without me and told me it’s the kind of movie that I’d really like, the knot grew tighter. But now that I’ve seen it… it’s gone. Sometimes, I wish it wasn’t. Sometimes, I wish the mystery, the expectation, was still there. I’ve had high hopes for Léon, not only because of its reputation and high ratings, but also because of the Italian hitman spin. While the film isn’t riddled with holes, it’s not the perfect work of art that I wanted to see. Like a sprinter, the film pushes itself, but doesn’t push past its bodily limitations in order to grab the gold and break records. My reaction has nothing to do with the actors. (After all, young Gary Oldman kills it as Stansfield, the crooked DEA agent, and preteen Natalie Portman really proves herself in her theatrical debut as Mathilda.)
For me, the film is simply missing something. Every aspect of the film is well done, but none of the attributes go all the way to leave a permanent mark in cinematic history or my mind. No limits are pushed, even when the opportunities are all there. The forbidden love between Léon and twelve-year-old Mathilda barely goes far enough to be considered pervese. Oldboy makes Léon: The Professional look like a story about a single father raising a mischievous daughter. The action, while entertaining, is easily outshined by modern features like John Wick. And while Gary Oldman’s character is one of the most interesting parts of the film—with his signature pill taking, monologuing, hysterical yelling demeanor—Stansfield isn’t really shown in an extreme act of murderous pleasure like how Mr. Blonde is highlighted in Reservoir Dogs. I blame this missed opportunity mostly on Stansfield’s weapon of choice. It would’ve been more intimate if Stansfield defaulted to a knife in certain situations, like the Joker does in The Dark Knight: “Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions.” But I guess Stansfield isn’t as mentally ill as Mr. Blonde or the Joker—he doesn’t kill purely for pleasure, despite his unstable personality. And perhaps Stansfield isn’t a pro at killing if you consider Léon’s lecture: “The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.”
The disciple, Mathilda, borrows many characteristics from Stanley Kubrick’s gum-chewing Lolita. And similar to Lolita, Léon: The Professional seems to avoid scenes too provocative for even the most conservative. Apparently the script originally included a love scene involving Mathilda and Léon, but it was removed due to worries by Natalie Portman’s parents. The film would have held a completely different dynamic with something that sensual and controversial implied. But without it, the relationship becomes child’s play within the cinematic world, with Mathilda’s words and confessions rolling off as simply inexperienced and naive talk with no foundation to hold on to.
For all its praise, the film doesn’t even have an Oscar nomination to hold on to. It was entirely overlooked by the Oscars, and for the most part, I can understand that; except when it comes to Gary Oldman’s performance. If you look at how Mark Wahlberg was nominated for best actor in a supporting role for his brief appearances in the over-hyped movie, The Departed, you can’t help but wonder why Gary Oldman wasn’t recognized. Come on, “EVERYONE!”
Evil Twin rating: 4
Good Twin rating: 3.5
Overall Rating: 4/5