Thursday, 11 March 2010

No Women, No Kids, That's The Rules.

Eleven year old crazed female killers? It happened long before Kick-Ass, my friends.

Luc Besson apparently wrote the script for Léon (or The Professional) in thirty days after production was pushed back on The Fifth Element due to Bruce Willis' schedule. He didn't want to have to let the production crew go or lose his momentum, so he made another film while he waited. Of course. As you do. As much as I have fond memories of The Fifth Element from when I was a child, this film is definitely the better of the two. Sometimes the best moments in life occur while you're waiting for something to happen, or however that goes.

Léon (Jean Reno) is a contract killer, a 'cleaner.' He lives next door to a family, whose middle child Mathilda (Natalie Portman) manages to miss her family being killed by crooked cop Stansfield (Gary Oldman) as she has ducked out to the shops. She begs Léon to take her in and teach her to 'clean' so that she can exact revenge on the people who killed her little brother, which he is very resistant to - he works alone. She wins him over through pleading and her Lolita-esque beguiling charm - it's been a long time since I last saw the film, but the first thing that came into my head was of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver.

What follows is Léon training to Mathilda to 'clean.' They work out every day, he teaches her how to handle weapons and use them, and eventually she embarks on her expedition to exact vengeance on Stansfield and his crew. However, she underestimates precisely how brilliantly mad Stansfield is, resulting in a fantastically epic final fight.

Superficially the film could bear similarity to films such as The Karate Kid - old master takes on young apprentice, teaching all he knows before apprentice becomes brilliant. What sets it apart is the darkness and precociousness of Mathilda. Portman lays down the gauntlet to the rest of her career (which she has done a damn good job of successfully challenging) with a tremendous debut performance at eleven years of age, holding her own against the simple matter-of-factness of Reno's Léon and the highly crazed maniacism of Oldman (which made me think of his Dark Knight costar, Heath Ledger's Joker.)

A very good film, it didn't quite make it to great status for me. Just lacking something, that little bit of va-va-voom that sticks in your mind and refuses to leave. 4 stars.

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