Leon: The Professional

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There are many people to thank for the unlikely success that is 1994’s Leon: The Professional. Gary Oldman, for his wild-eyed, sweaty, shouty cartoon of a villain. Obviously Jean Reno and his measured turn as the titular assassin deserves praise, although the movie really belongs to 11-year-old Natalie Portman as Leon’s ward, apprentice, and surrogate daughter, Mathilda. But the biggest thanks for Leon’s success go not to writer/director Luc Besson—who initially wrote a movie about the consensual (!) love affair (!!) between a middle aged killer and a 12-year-old girl—but instead to Portman’s parents, whose demands forced multiple changes to Besson’s script that not only made Portman’s involvement possible, but made his film (barely) palatable. Of course, even the drastically toned down version of Leon that was made opened Portman up to years of creepy fetishizing on the part of filmmakers (see: Ted Demme’s Beautiful Girls), film writers (see: any magazine profile of Portman circa 1994-1999), and self-proclaimed “film geeks” (see... on second thought, don’t). Some would argue it’s unfair to the film to hold this behind-the-scenes knowledge against it, but then again: Leon, engaging as it may be, is probably not the kind of film you should be thoughtlessly enjoying. by Bobby Roberts
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Credits
Director
Luc Besson
Cast
Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Jean Reno