Léon The Professional: Deluxe Edition
US Theatrical Release: None (The Professional: November 18, 1994) (Columbia - TriStar)
US DVD Release: January 11, 2005
Running Time: 2:12:45 (28 chapter stops)
Rating: Not Rated (Contains Violence, Language, and Adult Situations)
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio: English DD5.1, DTS5.1 (Extra features: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Trivia (Extra Features: Spanish, Portuguese)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
Menus: Very slightly animated and skippable.
Packaging: Dual-disc, single-thickness keep case plus outer slipcover; single-sheet insert contains cover images from other titles on one side and an alternate cover image for Léon The Professional on the other. The Superbit logo appears on the back of the case, but not on the front.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 4.5/5
This brutal, disturbing swirl of grim violence and childlike affection is director Luc Besson’s masterpiece. The lone-killer-befriends-young-child story has been done before, but rarely has it evoked such visceral and honest emotions. In a world of squalor and death, a relationship develops between two children: one who has aged physically into an adult’s body and one who is forced to grow up far more than her eleven years could possibly allow.
The title character’s emotional odyssey begins with a fateful decision: the family that neighbors his apartment has been slaughtered by a band of corrupt drug enforcement agents, and in an act of mercy that he doesn’t quite understand himself, he allows the one surviving child to hide out with him. The child, Mathilda (Natalie Portman, in her first role), becomes (understandably) obsessed with revenge. Conveniently, her new guardian Léon (Jean Reno) is a Mafia hit man with an extensive knowledge of the subject.
Léon’s experience, however, does not go far beyond violence. He is simple, illiterate, and, until Mathilda arrives, alone. His only human interaction is with his mob contact (the obviously cast Danny Aiello), who, in a stunningly efficient example of direct deposit, acts as both Léon’s work agent and his bank. The life of Léon is one of work and sleep.
Mathilda has had far more contact with others, but her only really meaningful relationship was with her quiet four-year-old brother. To her parents and sister, she merely took up space. She is desperately looking for love and affection from a parental figure, and at the same time is entering that awkward stage where the first stirrings of sexual feelings are waking up within her. When Léon saves her, all of her emotions become focussed on him.
Léon’s feelings towards Mathilda are as confused as hers are towards him. He has had relationships with women in the past, but his fatherly affection for her is a new experience. At the same time, he is shocked and disturbed by her overt sexual advances and her desire to learn how to kill. (As were test audiences – a number of these scenes were cut from the film’s initial theatrical release.)
Eventually, Léon relents and agrees to show Mathilda the ropes. She becomes his apprentice on a number of hit contracts, and although she does not actually perform any of the murders, she immediately displays a chilling indifference to Léon’s victims. It is not a great leap from there to the belief that this small child would be capable of taking bloody revenge on her brother’s killers. The question that the film must answer is not only whether she will physically survive the inevitable showdown with the ruthless gang, but whether she will survive with what little of her innocence remains.
Léon is blessed with an ensemble of actors working at the top of their games. Natalie Portman contributes one of the best child performances of recent years, while Jean Reno is perfectly cast (The character of Léon was in fact inspired by his similar performance in Besson’s earlier film La Femme Nikita). The leader of the corrupt agents, Stansfield, is portrayed by Gary Oldman in a typically over-the-top, but just shy of cartoonish, performance (it’s the performance that Jack Nicholson should have given in the first Tim Burton Batman film). Some have criticized Oldman’s overtly loony demeanor, but my only real issue with it involves a number of occasions when he delivers a line in a funny voice, which often causes his affected American accent to slip.
This is director Luc Besson’s finest work as an auteur. His skills as an action director are well-known, but here the violence is complemented by a touching story that revolves around a brilliantly written relationship. The characters, events, and locations, from the key protagonists to the action set pieces to the corner grocery, feel real in a way that clutches the audience tightly to the film until the closing credits roll.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 3.5/5
Léon sports a decent, yet unspectacular, transfer. Its famous yellowish tint is present in all its sandy glory. Colors are somewhat richly saturated, and black levels are satisfyingly deep. Clearly, not much restoration work (if any) has been done – a fair amount of film damage is visible in the form of scratches and nicks, but not quite enough to be distracting. The image retains a fine film grain.
Edge enhancement is present throughout most of the film – more than I would normally like to see. However, I won’t go so far as to say that it ruins the image. Perhaps they felt it was necessary due to the less-than-stellar quality of the original film elements. You have been warned.
Compression artifacts, on the other hand, are kept well under control. A high bitrate is maintained for the duration of the film, and it shows. Some pattern shimmering is visible on occasion, but it won’t be obtrusive on any but the largest screens.
UPDATED NOTE: I've looked at the VOB files with DGIndex. It would appear that the initial few seconds (prior to the Gaumont logo) are flagged interlaced, which may fool some players. In addition, some people have reported that various scenes scattered throughout the film are improperly flagged -- you may experience some issues related to the 3:2 pulldown flag during certain scenes.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5
Time for the $64,000 question: Has the audio track been corrected? The audio on the previous Superbit release of this title lacked pretty much any surround or LFE activity. That had been acknowledged as a production error on the original non-Superbit release, but the Superbit was never corrected. Until now. While this is not a thunderous, blow-you-away soundtrack, it is certainly respectable. It’s a fairly low-budget film, so these aren’t the earth-shattering gun blasts and explosions that we’re accustomed to in modern blockbusters. Your house won’t shake, but your sub and surrounds will at least work for their supper. Both DD and DTS 5.1 tracks are included. However, they have been mixed quite differently.
In both mixes, dialogue and most effects are smooth and clear and centered up front. Where they diverge is mainly in the rear channels, and the biggest difference is Eric Serra’s intense, brooding score. the Dolby track keeps the music almost entirely in the front stereo soundstage, while the DTS track immerses the viewer in a very live 5-channel music mix. There is also more rear effects activity in the DTS track, albeit to a lesser extent. It’s enough to give the DTS track a more spacious, vibrant feel.
The meat of the matter is this: don’t bother with the Dolby track unless your receiver’s faceplate lacks the DTS logo.
THE SWAG: 3/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
Disc 1 includes a subtitle trivia track that displays various tidbits of information on screen as the film plays. It’s a bit sporadic (tru fax pop up, on average, every 10-15 seconds or so), but there’s a decent amount of interesting information here. Amaze your friends! Experience nausea when you discover that Keanu Reeves was considered for the role of Léon!
Three featurettes are included on disc 2, with a total running time of about 51 minutes. All three consist of newly recorded content. They are anamorphic (huzzah!).
10 Year Retrospective: (25:08)
Various members of the cast and crew, all recorded in different places, reminisce about their experiences on the film. The information is the same sort of stuff that’s normally included in a commentary track. There’s some interesting material, and some behind-the-scenes clips are included to illustrate some of the discussion. Luc Besson and Gary Oldman do not participate, but most of the other major players, including Jean Reno and Natalie Portman, are included.
Jean Reno: The Road To Léon: (12:24)
A biographical piece on Jean Reno, from his youth in Casablanca to his initial involvement with acting to his starmaking performances in a series of Luc Besson films. He delves into good detail regarding his role as Léon.
Natalie Portman: Starting Young: (13:49)
Natalie Portman talks about working on the film as an 11-year-old. A couple of screen tests are included, and it’s interesting to see how similar her performances in the tests are to the final product. We find out about some of the conditions that her parents placed on allowing her to perform in such an adult film, such as requiring Mathilda to quit smoking as part of the story.
Six trailers are included. I personally prefer them to be on disc 1 so that I can check them out as an appetizer for the feature. No trailer is included for Léon itself. Note that the trailers for The Grudge and House of Flying Daggers are anamorphic and have DD5.1 audio. The others are non-anamorphic, with DD2.0 audio.
- The Fifth Element (2-disc Special DVD Edition) (1:34)
- Monster (2-disc Special DVD Edition) (1:06)
- The Grudge (1:27)
- Renegade (1:15)
- House Of Flying Daggers (0:46)
- Dead Birds (2:06)
The Way I Feel About It: 4.5/5
The Way I See It: 3.5/5
The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5
The Swag: 3.5/5
Longtime fans of this minor classic, and especially owners of the original Superbit release, will be thrilled to discover that Sony has indeed blessed Léon The Professional: Deluxe Edition with a good audio track. And while the picture quality isn’t going to win any awards, it is passable. Some decent, if not terribly extensive, extra features round out the package. Those who have yet to see this film owe it to themselves to at least give it a rental. It’s a unique take on an old story and a well-crafted ballet of traditional action. Keep in mind, however, that some of the subject matter involving the relationship between Léon and Matilda is fairly controversial, to say the least. No actual indecent acts are portrayed, but some viewers may be made uncomfortable, especially by some of young Natalie Portman’s dialogue. That said, it’s a daring piece of cinema that is well worth watching. Léon The Professional: Deluxe Edition is RECOMMENDED.