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Leon: The Professional (Uncut International Version)

Leon is an unofficial remake of John Cassavetes's Gloria, which doesn't come as much of a surprise, as director Luc Besson, like James Cameron, has had trouble in the past with accusations of uninvited borrowings. This time around it's an older man and a young girl, but the circumstances are similar. Mathilda (Natalie Portman) is the daughter of a stupid minor gangster who has been siphoning off some drugs for himself. When he is found out, his family is wasted. Mathilda escapes the massacre because, like Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor, she was out of the apartment getting some food at the time. When she comes back to see her family dead, she goes to the door of her mysterious, solitary neighbor, Leon (Jean Reno), who not only protects her, but at her insistence begins to give her lessons in killing people. You see, Leon is a hitman. Or, as he prefers to put it, a "cleaner." With Leon, Besson expands on a character he developed in La Femme Nikita. Leon goes to his benefactor, played by Danny Aiello, for the occasional job, which may entail killing or threatening rivals. The rest of the time he lives like a milk-drinking monk, another Alan Ladd or Alain Delon, coiled in repose, calm and still, and waiting in his room for the moment to strike. Until he meets Mathilda, the only thing the killer kept alive was his house plant. Almost a simpleton except for his physical grace and murderous cunning, Leon is otherwise one of Besson's usual naifs. Again like Cameron, Besson returns again and again to tales in which someone sacrifices himself to save another. Besson's wrinkle of individuality with the theme is that often one of the members of this duo of rescuer and rescued is a complete alien (sometimes literally). Jean-Marc Barr in The Big Blue is a living fish who brings his soon-abandoned girlfriend renewed life. Leeloo in The Fifth Element is pure love but a terrible socializer. It's almost inevitable that Besson would do a version of St. Joan; she is the quintessential innocent hosting a murderous savior. There have been several laserdisc versions of The Professional and a previous DVD, but Columbia TriStar's Leon: The Professional features the director's preferred cut, which doesn't shorten the violence and includes longer scenes between Leon and Mathilda. Leon is a strong film; but perhaps the 24 minutes of additional footage in this cut isn't all essential. The newly added stuff does tend to make the friendship between the killer and the feral child cutesy, but it's great to have the whole thing in the format that Besson preferred. There is no commentary track, and only a four-page booklet gives us details about this production. Also included on the disc is a panoply of promotional materials, including the trailer and the European ad campaign. Good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), English Dolby Digital 5.1 (along with 2.0 surround), subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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