Leon: The Professional

Reviewed By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 09/20/00 08:29:54

"Natalie Portman is a reincarnation of a real 'star'"
5 stars (Awesome)

In The Professional cinema is witnessing the birth of a major talent that in future years is going to go on and win multiple Oscars, etc. But for now, Natalie Portman is just your ordinary 12-year-old hitman's apprentice.

Mathilda (Portman) is 12, smokes cigarettes and on precociously as if she's done everything the world's had to offer already. Her family is deranged and her father is mixed up with some shady characters.

When out picking up some groceries, the family is massacred by a pill-popping, Beethoven-obsessed maniac (Gary Oldman) over some drug complications. Plucky Mathilda returns and is "saved" by her neighbor (Jean Reno). We discover that this guy is a cleaner -slang for a hitman-and he drinks an awful lot of milk. She's now all alone and he doesn't know what to do with her. Mathilda cheerfully suggests that in exchange for being looked after with a place to stay, he can in turn teach her to "clean." Regardless of her father, step-mother, and half-sister's deaths, Mathilda wants revenge for the murder of her 4-year-old brother.

After some conniving convincing, he agrees and the two go into training.

The plot is simple and easily maneuvers its way around the ring. Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) makes his English language writing/directing debut. The Professional is isometrically fit with suspense, taut-action, and a sense of intelligence. The proportions break down nicely allowing the film to be equally carried by the action, well-sharpened performances, and unforced humor.

It was refreshing to see Reno's character so opened by Mathilda. His appreciation for life and love was equally fed by her drive. Reno and Portman share a strong bond of chemistry, and the paired duo fit hand in glove. And to boot, Besson's script chose depth over cash-in. Really, the only qualm over the story is Oldman and his gang. It seems out of place, under-developed. It's like he's from a whole other movie. It emphasizes an inimical and unneeded wickedness. Danger is cool, but wicked doesn't fit into this overall picture.

The action/shoot 'em up sequences strayed from being showy, and though maybe a little generic, the style of camera angles and movements were solid. The actual believability of the story and Portman's precocity may be stretched, but The Professional is a fun movie in essence. It may not always be high in concept, but it's guile, and in relation to the audience, it's a giddy ride.

Reno handles his slick and tough persona with wit and charm. Neophyte Natalie Portman, making her debut here, and a spectacular one at that, does it all without seeming like a novice. She's cute, well-timed (the game sequence was a hoot!), plucky (both as an actress and a character) and is really an invigorating fresh breath of air. There's a visible grace she shows, and like Reno, charm.

Final Verdict: A-.

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