Léon (film)

Léon (film)
Léon: The Professional
Official promotional poster
Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by Patrice Ledoux
Written by Luc Besson
Starring Jean Reno
Gary Oldman
Natalie Portman
Danny Aiello
Music by Éric Serra
Cinematography Thierry Arbogast
Editing by Sylvie Landra
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Gaumont Film Company
Release date(s) 14 September 1994 (1994-09-14) (France)
18 November 1994 (1994-11-18) (United States)
Running time Theatrical cut:
110 minutes
Director's cut
133 minutes
International cut:
136 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $16 million[1]
Box office $45,284,974[1][2]

Léon (also known as The Professional and Léon: The Professional) is a 1994 French thriller film written and directed by Luc Besson. It stars Jean Reno as a mob hitman, Gary Oldman as a corrupt DEA agent, a young Natalie Portman, in her feature film debut, as a 12-year-old girl who is taken in by the hitman after her family is murdered, and Danny Aiello as the mobster who gives the hitman his assignments.



Leone "Léon" Montana (Jean Reno) is a hitman (or "cleaner," as he refers to himself) living a solitary life in New York City's Little Italy. His work comes from a mafioso named Tony (Danny Aiello), who operates from the "Supreme Macaroni Company" restaurant. Léon spends his idle time engaging in calisthenics, nurturing a houseplant that early on he describes as his "best friend,"[3] and (in one scene) watching old Gene Kelly musicals.

On a particular day, he meets Mathilda Lando (Natalie Portman), a twelve-year-old girl with a black eye and smoking a cigarette, living with her dysfunctional family in an apartment down the hallway. Her abusive father and self-absorbed stepmother have not even noticed that Mathilda has stopped attending class at her school for troubled girls. Mathilda's father (Michael Badalucco) attracts the ire of corrupt DEA agents, who have been paying him to store cocaine in his residence, after they discover that he has been stealing some of the drugs for himself. A cadre of DEA agents storm the building, led by a sharp-suited and drug-addicted Norman "Stan" Stansfield (Gary Oldman), who murders Mathilda's entire family, missing her only because she was out shopping when they arrived. When she returns and notices the carnage, she calmly continues down the hallway and receives sanctuary from a reluctant Léon.

Mathilda discovers that Léon is a hitman. She begs him to become her caretaker and to teach her his skills as a "cleaner;" she wants to avenge the murder of her four-year-old brother, claiming that he was the only member of her family she loved, though she clearly regrets the deaths of her other family members. Léon shows her how to use firearms, including a scoped rifle. In return, she offers her services as a maid and teacher, remedying Léon's illiteracy. Mathilda tells Léon several times that she is falling in love with him, but he says nothing back. After increasing her experience with firearms, Mathilda fills a shopping bag with guns from Léon's collection and sets out to kill Stansfield. She bluffs her way into the DEA office by posing as a delivery person, only to be ambushed by Stansfield in a bathroom. Mathilda learns from Stansfield and one of his men that Léon has killed one of the corrupt DEA agents in Chinatown. Léon, after discovering her intentions in a note left for him, rushes to rescue Mathilda, shooting two more of Stansfield's men in the process.

Stansfield is enraged the "Italian hitman" has gone rogue. He beats Tony, forcing him to surrender Léon's whereabouts. As soon as Mathilda returns home from grocery shopping, an NYPD ESU team, sent by Stansfield, takes her hostage and attempts to infiltrate Léon's apartment. Léon ambushes the ESU team and frees Mathilda. In the apartment, Léon creates a quick escape for Mathilda by chopping a hole in a slender air shaft. He reassures her and tells her that he loves her and that she has given him "a taste for life", moments before the police come for him. In the chaos that follows, Léon sneaks out of the apartment building disguised as a wounded ESU officer. He is unnoticed save for Stansfield, who recognizes the hitman and shoots him. Léon then places an object in Stansfield's hands, which he explains is "from Mathilda," and dies. Opening his hands, Stansfield finds the pin from a grenade. He rips open Léon's vest to discover several active grenades on his chest right before a massive explosion kills him as well.

Mathilda heads to Tony's place as she was instructed to do by Léon. Tony will not give Mathilda more than a small amount of the fortune Léon had amassed, which Tony was holding for him. He offers a monthly allowance and says school should be her priority for now. Mathilda asks Tony to give her a job, insisting that she can "clean" as Léon had. Tony sternly informs her that he "ain't got no work for a 12-year-old kid!" Having nowhere else to go, Mathilda makes her way to New Jersey in an attempt to return to school. After telling her and Léon's story to the headmistress, and seemingly being readmitted, Mathilda walks into a field near the school with Léon's houseplant in hand. She digs a hole and plants it, as she had told Léon he should, to give it roots.


  • Jean Reno as Léon, a professional hitman
  • Gary Oldman as Stansfield, a corrupt DEA agent
  • Natalie Portman as Mathilda, a twelve-year old girl
  • Danny Aiello as Tony, a mafioso who gives Léon hit jobs
  • Michael Badalucco as Mathilda's father
  • Ellen Greene as Mathilda's mother
  • Peter Appel as Malky
  • Willi One Blood as Blood
  • Don Creech as Neal
  • Keith A. Glascoe as Benny
  • Randolph Scott as Jordon
  • Elizabeth Regen as Mathilda's Sister
  • Carl J. Matusovich as Mathilda's Brother
  • Frank Senger as Fatman
  • Lucius Wyatt Cherokee as Tonto


Léon & Mathilda's apartment building on the northwest corner of E 97th St & Park Ave (February 2005)

Léon is to some extent an expansion of an idea in Besson's earlier 1990 film, La Femme Nikita (in some countries Nikita). In La Femme Nikita Jean Reno plays a similar character named Victor. Besson described Léon as "Now maybe Jean is playing the American cousin of Victor. This time he's more human."[4]

While most of the interior footage was shot in France, the rest of the film was shot on location in New York. The final scene at the school was filmed at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.[5]


The film received generally favorable reviews from critics.[6] As of January 2011, the film holds a "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an aggregate rating of 78% based on 40 critical reviews, and the consensus, "Pivoting on the unusual relationship between seasoned hitman and his 12-year-old apprentice — a breakout turn by young Natalie Portman — Luc Besson's Léon is a stylish and oddly affecting thriller". However, the inclusion of the 12-year-old Mathilda character, and Gary Oldman's deliberately overstated portrayal of corrupt DEA officer Norman Stansfield,[7] polarized critics.[8]

Richard Schickel lauded the film, writing, "this is a Cuisinart of a movie, mixing familiar yet disparate ingredients, making something odd, possibly distasteful, undeniably arresting out of them." He praised Oldman's performance as "divinely psychotic."[9] Mark Deming at Allmovie awarded the film four stars out of five, describing it as "As visually stylish as it is graphically violent", and featuring "a strong performance from Jean Reno, a striking debut by Natalie Portman, and a love-it-or-hate-it, over-the-top turn by Gary Oldman."[10] Roger Ebert awarded the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, writing: "It is a well-directed film, because Besson has a natural gift for plunging into drama with a charged-up visual style. And it is well acted." However, he was not entirely complimentary: "Always at the back of my mind was the troubled thought that there was something wrong about placing a 12-year-old character in the middle of this action." "In what is essentially an exercise—a slick urban thriller—it seems to exploit the youth of the girl without really dealing with it."[11] On the film review show At the Movies, Gene Siskel criticised the film, calling it a "truly annoying picture, all style, no substance, all fake emotion and even questionable in its would-be sexy portrayal of a pre-teenage girl". He said of Oldman's performance, "Is that overacting? I think so."[12] While Oldman's performance divided critical opinion, Director Luc Besson was pleased with it, leading to his hiring Oldman for 1997's The Fifth Element,[7] and in 2002, Stansfield was ranked #43 in the Online Film Critics Society's "Top 100 Villains of All Time."[13] In 2011, Total Film named the performance at the fifth best of Oldman's career, writing, "Oldman shows that he can bring gravitas and a dangerous energy to just about any character he plays, shrugging into the boots of corrupt DEA agent Stansfield."[14]

Léon was nominated for seven César Awards in 1995.[15]

Extended version

There is also an extended version of the film, referred to as "international version" or "version intégrale". Containing 25 minutes of additional footage, it is sometimes called the "Director's Cut" but Besson refers to the original version as the Director's Cut and the new version as "The Long Version".[16] According to Luc Besson, this is the version he wanted to release, but for the fact that the extra scenes tested poorly with Los Angeles preview audiences. The additional material is found in the film's second act, and it depicts more of the interactions and relationship between Léon and Mathilda, as well as explicitly demonstrating how Mathilda accompanies Léon on several of his hits as "a full co-conspirator," to further her training as a contract killer.[17]

The additional scenes[18] include:

  1. Mathilda telling Léon she is 18 years old.
  2. Mathilda threatening to shoot herself playing Russian roulette if Léon doesn't teach her how to become a killer.
  3. Léon taking Mathilda to meet Tony.
  4. Léon and Mathilda hitting a drug dealer's home, with Mathilda setting fire to his supply of drugs with rubbing alcohol.
  5. A montage of training missions where Mathilda learns the ropes of becoming an assassin.
  6. Léon and Mathilda celebrating her first hit at a restaurant, where she gets drunk.
  7. Léon explaining why he left Italy and went to New York at the age of 19.
  8. Mathilda asking Léon to be her lover (with Léon refusing, saying "I wouldn't be a very good lover").
  9. Mathilda and Léon sleeping next to each other in a bed.

Léon: Version Intégrale was released in France in 1996; in the U.S. it was released on DVD as Léon: The Professional in 2000. Both versions contain the additional footage.[19]


During the filming of final scenes which involved dozens of police cars, a robber from a nearby store encountered the movie set by accident and surrendered himself to a bunch of uniformed extras.[20]


The Bollywood movie Bichhoo was inspired by Léon.

It has been claimed that Besson has written the script for a sequel, which Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton was to direct and in which Portman would reprise the Mathilda role. Filming was to be delayed until Portman was a bit older. However, in the meantime, Besson left Gaumont Film Company to start his own movie studio, EuropaCorp. Unhappy at Besson's departure, Gaumont Film Company "has held The Professional rights close to the vest — and will not budge." According to Megaton, the sequel will more than likely never happen.[21][22]


  1. ^ a b "Léon". http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1994/0PROF.php. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Professional". http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=professional.htm. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  3. ^ He May Be a Killer, But He's Such a Sweetie, a November 1994 review of the film from The New York Times
  4. ^ Besson, Luc. Léon: The Professional Uncut International Version DVD, inside sleeve.
  5. ^ "Leon – The Professional filming locations". The Worldwide Guide To Movie Locations. 18 June 2008. http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/l/leon.html. 
  6. ^ "Léon Movie Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-professional. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  7. ^ a b The Fifth Element, Deluxe edition, inlay notes.
  8. ^ Léon the Professional at Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster Retrieved on 28 April 2008.
  9. ^ Richard Schickel (24 June 2001). "Slice and Dice". Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,163382,00.html. 
  10. ^ Mark Deming. "The Professional review". Allmovie. http://www.allmovie.com/work/the-professional-133866. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  11. ^ "The Professional review by Roger Ebert
  12. ^ "Léon review". At the Movies. 19 November 1994. No. 10, season 9.
  13. ^ "Top 100 Villains of All Time". Online Film Critics Society
  14. ^ Winning, Josh. Best Movies: The film chameleon’s greatest moments (#5). Total Film. 11 April, 2011. Retrieved 4 October, 2011.
  15. ^ Awards for Léon. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  16. ^ "The Guardian interview. Luc Besson". The Guardian (London). 23 March 2000. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2000/mar/23/guardianinterviewsatbfisouthbank1. 
  17. ^ Lisa Nesselson (29 July 1996). "Leon: Version Integrale – The Professional (Director's Cut)". Variety. http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117911012.html. 
  18. ^ Léon (1994) – Alternate versions new scenes listed at imdb.com
  19. ^ "amctv.com". Movies.amctv.com. 16 April 2010. http://movies.amctv.com/movie/133866/Professional/details. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  20. ^ Léon (1994) Trivia. IMDb, the Internet Movie Database.
  21. ^ "Exclusive: Olivier Megaton Says Sequel to ‘The Professional’ Unlikely". Screen Rant. 19 August 2010. http://screenrant.com/the-professional-sequel-mathilda-vic-74470/. 
  22. ^ "Natalie Portman Wants 'Professional' Sequel, But Only if Luc Besson Directs". Movie Fone. 07 September 2010. http://blog.moviefone.com/2010/09/27/natalie-portman-wants-professional-sequel-but-only-if-luc-bes/. 

External links

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