Turn Back the Clock
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I never got a chance to see The Professional when the movie hit the theaters in 1994, but I had heard good things about the film and the amazing action sequences it had to offer. Years later, after seeing Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and seeing what a remarkable actress she was, I decided to check out her first film to see just how good she was at the beginning of her career.
The Professional, also known as Léon, is an action film written and directed by French director Luc Besson. As the film opens, we meet Léon (Jean Reno), a quiet, unassuming man who generally keeps to himself, although he does often have a kind word for his 12-year-old neighbor, Mathilda (Natalie Portman). Léon’s best friend is a plant, a good friend to have as it never judges you, doesn’t ask a lot of questions and doesn’t expect much. It’s a bright spot of beauty in a world full of danger and pain. Léon is a cleaner, a professional hitman, and this plant and milk are the only vices he allows himself, until Mathilda finds herself in mortal danger.
Mathilda is the middle child in an abusive and dysfunctional family. Her father (Michael Badalucco) has been storing cocaine in his residence for a decent amount of money received from corrupt agents of the DEA. Unfortunately, Mathilda’s father has not been entirely forthcoming with the stash, saving some of it for himself. This brings him to the attention Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), the drug-addicted leader of the corrupt DEA agents. His unwillingness to be forthcoming with Stansfield puts his family in danger. Stansfield raids the home while Mathilda is at the grocery store and kills the family.
Mathilda arrives just after the massacre and Léon saves her by taking her into his apartment as if she is his child. Despite his reservations, Léon allows Mathilda to stay the night, expecting her to leave in the morning, but Mathilda makes him a proposition - now that she knows what he does for a living, she wants him to train her. She wants to take revenge on Stansfield and his goons for killing her four-year-old brother. Léon balks at first, but Mathilda grows on him and her determination and his fondness for the girl decides him. He begins her training, all the while deciding to take her cause on himself.
Surprisingly, despite this being her first role, I could see exactly what the casting director saw in Natalie Portman. She is a natural and entirely believable in her role as an abused pre-teen who finds a connection with a lone wolf hitman, developing a crush on the only man who has ever treated her with any sort of decency. Jean Reno is both frightening and adorable in his dual role as a successful professional hitman and the father figure Mathilda never had. Gary Oldman is despicable as the hopped-up, corrupt Drug Enforcement Agent with a penchant for violence mixed with intellectual banter. Quite the difference from his roles in films like Harry Potter, Batman and Planet 51, although I do see a resemblance, however vague to his role in Sid and Nancy, the first time I witnessed Oldman’s incredible acting skills.
The film’s message is hidden in a barrage of action scene filled with firefights, explosions and death. The message is also clouded by the bits of romantic innuendo found in the relationship between Léon and Mathilda. However, if you look at the surface of things, you will find that the real message here is that just when you have given up on life as being callous and contemptibly cruel, one person can enter it, even for the shortest of moments and give you back the faith you thought you never had. Mathilda does this for Léon by offering him something he hasn’t had in years - the levity of a family life and someone worth caring for. Léon offers Mathilda the same thing by giving her a sense of security and the love that she never experienced with her own family.
And now back to the action - all I can say is wow! The film starts with action, showing us what Léon does in just one typical day as a professional hitman. It ends in action as Léon and Stansfield square off against each other, all in the name of Mathilda. There are gunfights and explosions, brutal murders and the like, each one different and unique as only Léon can make them. Whoever the individual was that coordinated Léon’s action scenes, that person was incredibly inventive.
The writing is brilliant and I loved the banter between Léon and Mathilda throughout the movie. We are instantly drawn to these characters and vested in their future. Despite the fact that Léon is a professional hitman, we find ourselves rooting for him and Mathilda. We despise Stansfield and his henchman thanks to his drug-induced killing frenzies, an activity we suspect Stansfield would still enjoy without the drugs. His lines drip with sarcasm and hate and a flippant disrespect for mankind as a whole.
The film’s locales were awesome and I loved the fact that I could recognize several of the filming locations in the movie, such as 1 Centre Street, which, in this film serves as the headquarters of the DEA, but in reality is the Municipal Building, housing quite a few different agencies.
I loved everything about this film from the action to the storyline to the music by Eric Serra to the cinematography to the film’s message. The Professional has it all - drama, intensity, action and more. This is a film no serious action fan could pass up on with characters so captivating that drama fans will love sinking their teeth into. No one in their right mind should pass up checking out The Professional.