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Leon: The Professional (International Version)

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Most successful directors have a mental image of how a film should unfold. Directors are, by large, creative, opinionated and strong willed. When their vision of a movie is in conflict with studio that is footing the bill scenes are often cut. For many years now there have been director’s cuts. Releases of films where the director’s original vision has been restore. Sometimes, this can diminish a film. Other times it provides great depth to the characters, completes an explanation or even adds previously unseen plot lines. With the release of Leon – the Integral Version an excellent film becomes great. Almost a half an hour or material deleted by the studios has been restored. The story is compelling, holding the viewers attention despite, perhaps because, of how disturbing the subject matter is. A 12-year-old girl Matilda (Natalie Portman) lives in a drab apartment house. She sits on the stairway landing outside the apartment door, a battered child sneaking a cigarette, dreaming a getting away from her family. The only member of her family that Matilda loves is her kid brother, the rest of them are constantly at odds with her. Her father is holding some drugs for a crooked DEA agent Norman, masterfully played by Gary Oldman. Norman feels that Matilda’s father ripped him off. Norman and his goons burst into the apartment while Matilda is out and massacres the entire family. Towards the end of this slaughter Matilda returns home and think faster than most adults would have, walks past her own door and up to the door of a neighbor, Leon. Leon is a quiet man that just happens to be master class hit man. Reluctantly, Leon lets the frightened girl into his apartment. Once they find out about the murders Matilda talks Leon into taking her in to protect her. Her lust to avenge the death of her brother she gets Leon to teach her to be a a hit man. The story shows the changes in the young girl from innocent to killer and a man that can kill with a cold dispassion and professionalism that is truly frightening into a tender father figure.

The cast of this film is extraordinary. Jean Reno as Leon brings a depth and range to the part that few actors can pull off. He shows a side different from the one-dimensional killers most movies use but rather depicts Leon as a full human being. A killer, sure, but also a human being trapped in his profession. In sharp contrast to his deadly profession Reno shows a softer side of Leon. A man devoted to his potted plant, watches old Gene Kelly movies and drinks two quarts of milk each day. Natalie Portman, now best know as the Queen of Phantom Menace, was only 12 when she filmed this movie. Her range is incredible. She can fluctuate between the nave little girl and the hardened killer at a moment. Few adult actresses can exhibit such a range of skill. Gary Oldman portrays the DEA bad guy. He is one of the best actors ever for the over the type top performance demanded by this role, yet he always manages to maintain believability in his portrayal. What this extended version provides is several expository scenes that help define these powerful characters. A scene where Matilda tries to seduce Leon and he refuses demonstrates just how powerful Portman and Reno are and how fantastic the chemistry was between them in this film. Then there is Danny Aiello as Tony, the person that sets up the ‘cleaning’ jobs for Leon. As always, Aiello delivers a stellar and sensitive performance.

The director, Luc Besson, is not one to follow but rather is very comfortable in setting his own direction in films. With such films as La Femme Nikita and the Fifth Element to his credit he is one of the strangest and most talented directors of this day. His use of camera angles, extreme close-ups and sweeping visuals moves this film from excellent to extraordinary. For example, when we see Leon at work killing some bodyguards of a drug dealer we see a long shot down the hotel’s huge stairway. When we first see Matilda a bit later one there is a similar shot down the stairway of her apartment house. The shot seems to foreshadow the violence we are about to see there by trying the visual to the previous violence. Every shot in this film is classic and framed like a masterpiece. The juxtaposition of violence with the tenderness of Leon and the budding beauty of Matilda make this film the type that draws you in and holds you.

This extended release disc has a few more extras than the original release. There are some trailers and an isolated score which is magnificent. The sound is of the highest quality. The sub woofer goes from a soft hum to a pounding, roaring bass as the action waxes and wanes. The surround speakers simply enfold the room. The video is without flaw. The 2.35:1 aspect ration provides the full view of each masterfully crafted scene. For Besson fans and those that enjoy an adult, moving drama this one is for you.

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