Director: Luc Besson
Script: Luc Besson
Cast: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Danny Aiello
Running time: 133 minutes
I’ll be honest; LEON is one of my all-time favourite films. When I saw it at the cinema 25 years ago it knocked me for six – in a good way – and it took me a few minutes to recover myself before I could leave the fading grandeur of the Reading Odeon.
This coming-of-age story has the power to grip its audience tightly as it tells the sad, but heart-warming story of the titular hit-man (Reno) and his rather sweet, but strange relationship with his neighbour’s orphaned daughter, Mathilda (Portman).
Mathilda is a worldly 12-year old who begs Leon to help her when her family are massacred by corrupt police officers. He reluctantly takes her under his wing, but things soon start to get very complicated, which won’t surprise anyone with a borderline teenage daughter! Mathilda has a mind of her own and is determined to get revenge on those who killed her baby brother; the only person she ever loved.
I won’t say any more about the plot, just in case readers haven’t already seen it, but I highly recommend the film, and not just for the excellent storytelling on display (thanks Luc for the warmth, humour and tragedy of your script), but also for the excellent photography and music that help to tell the tale, all in perfect unison. This is truly Luc Besson’s masterpiece.
I watched the full director’s cut, which is about 23 minutes longer than the more commonly seen theatrical release. I have to say I probably prefer the shorter version, but the director’s cut is still an amazing piece of cinema and well worth checking out if you haven’t yet seen it. Why the preference, you might ask; well, I guess the theatrical cut is more nuanced and subtle in revealing the nature of the two miss-matched friends’ relationship with each other, whereas the, shall we say, more full-on European cut is, well, more ‘French’ in its acceptance of underage love…
Jean Reno explains in an interview on the disc that the film is a reflection of his first serious love back when he was still a teenager, so I very much get what he’s trying to convey, but I can also see why the studio and sales people might have asked him to cut out a couple of scenes from the initial release, probably realistically realising that American audiences would more likely be disturbed by or not ‘get’ (in the way they were intended) the missing sequences.
What is still apparent though, regardless of whichever version one sees, is how powerful the film is, and it quickly sucks you into its own little world for a couple of hours. One can clearly see why this remains a cult classic, and so it should be.
Studiocanal is distributing LEON on DVD & Blu-ray. Studiocanal are releasing the 4K UHD Blu-ray of the film, which looks and sounds amazing, apart from a sound sync problem that I spotted at around 85 minutes in. This only lasted for a couple of brief scenes, but was still irritating.
There are, however, plenty of extras to enjoy including:
Leon – A ten year retrospective (25 mins) – The cast and crew look back at the film they created ten years after its initial release. This is an interesting and informative featureette that features a nice range of mini-interviews with the main participants. Apparently Besson gave Reno the script as a birthday present; now that’s an example of great friendship for you! We also learn that the director’s cut, when shown as a preview in New York, caused a fair bit of laughter from its audience during the ‘romantic parts’ so Besson agreed to recut the film after that.
Jean Reno – The Road to Leon (12.5 mins) – We find out that Reno is originally from Casablanca and studied theatre in Paris before Besson met him and made him a star. Reno comes across like a decent bloke.
Natalie Portman – Starting Young (14 mins) – We learn that Portman was 11 years old when she shot the film and her parents didn’t want her to do it at first, but she ‘persuaded’ them to let her! Apparently some of the initial scenes in the script, where Reno and Portman take a shower together, were taken out at her parent’s request; understandably! Portman also says that she didn’t have to do any acting when she was in front of Gary Oldman as he was ‘terrifying’ for real!
Interview with Jean Reno (7 mins) – Here Jean reveals that Luc doesn’t like to do much rehearsal and that Besson compared Leon to a ‘chicken looking at a coombe’! Reno describes Portman has being really smart and having a big heart.
Interview with Eric Serra (10 mins) – An interview with the film’s composer, who says that he first met Besson when he was only 18 year’s old. Serra also composed the, at times, similar music for Goldeneye. Weirdly enough, one of my favourite tracks on the excellent LEON soundtrack is Sting’s ‘Shape of my Heart’, which is easily one of the best songs he’s ever written and works really well at the end of the picture.