Léon: The Professional - Theatrical and Extended Versions [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (19th April 2011).
The Film

What ever happened to Luc Besson? It seemed that for a while he was making some of the most kick ass movies, "Le Grand Bleu" (1988), "La Femme Nikita" (1990), "Léon" (1994) and "The Fifth Element" (1997), every time I saw a poster that read "A film by Luc Besson" I’d buy a ticket right away and be entertained for two hours. That was before he started producing fogetable martial arts films and not directing anything worth seeing since 1999’s long winded epic "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Having a quick glance at his IMDB listing he has numerous projects listed as a producer in some stage of development. It seems we may have a French Quentin Tarantino on our hands delivering a new movie as a director once every 5 or 6 years. In the mean time we can at least check out the filmmaker’s previous action masterpieces on disc, bless the Blu-ray gods for such a fine gift indeed.

"Léon" AKA "Léon: The Professional" as known to western audiences has had it’s day on DVD many times before, ten years after it’s original release the film got another release in a deluxe version, then a nice new Superbit transfer and a DTS track, now we have this shiny new HD Blu-ray release. Before we get into the specifications mumbo jumbo, let’s take a quick look at the film that made Jean Reno a household name and introduced the world to a lovely young actress who would later become the mother of Luke and Leia in "Star Wars", Natalie Portman.

One day 12 year-old Mathilda’s (Natalie Portman) life gets turned upside down when her entire family is brutally murdered by corrupt cop Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Taken in by the mysterious Léon (Jean Reno), a neighbour in the same apartment building. Mathilda, dealing with her family’s death most notably her little brother whom she loved so much eventually discovers Léon’s unusual profession, a professional hit man. Eager to learn the ropes, she persuades him to teach her the ins and outs of professional assassinations. Léon, overwhelmingly takes care of her and unofficially adopts Mathilda into his life. Eventually Mathilda uses her training to seek revenge on the cop that killed her little brother, an act that ends in a confrontation that leads Léon against the entire New York Police force.

Many people that I know who are fans of this film all talk about how the action is intense, thrilling and mind-blowingly fantastic and is grounded in reality unlike a lot of the - check your brain at the door’ fare we see and that’s the film’s strongest element, but I disagree I think that it’s a nice bonus, what makes this film so engaging are the characters. Besson nailed them as people that we can relate to and that allows us as an audience to accept the situation that Mathilda was thrown into and the subsequent ride that became the thrust of the film. How many action films show a human side to the characters? I can never relate to action film characters that are super heroic who blow s**t up all the time, shoot millions of rounds of bullets and save the world and doesn’t even get a scratch. I’ve seen so much over the top bulls**t in movies that once in a while it’s refreshing to see a hit man character taking care of a plant and making sure the girl he unofficially adopted drinks her milk. And Reno and Portman do a great job at making these characters real - most importantly in their relationship, Reno adds a certain clumsy charm to the icy killer that takes the edge off and Portman delivers a performance that’s wise beyond her years and proves (then as a child actor) that she has the chops to act with the best of them and is achieving that to this day. One can’t comment about the characters and the performances in this film without brining up the always amazing Gary Oldman, playing the corrupt cop Stansfield. Oldman plays the film’s villain in a performance that can be described as comic but not in the funny ha ha way. I mean comic in that over-the-top, twisted and sinister kind of way, in many scenes Oldman steals the show with a memorable and entertaining performance.

I mentioned earlier that the action in the film is a nice bonus, which it certainly is because Besson handles the action extremely well. It flows organically from the seeds plated in the beginning, the payoff naturally is at the end and it does not disappoint. The S.W.A.T. siege of the apartment remains as one of the most memorable sequences not only in this film but in general. The build-up is deliberately slow, Besson pushes you as far on the edge of your seat as possible and then lets loose with a barrage that continues to escalate. It’s as if he’s conducting a massive orchestra and every instrument in his arsenal from his cast, to the shot blocking, the cinematography, practical effects, the editing and sound are working in perfect unison to create a sequence that for me has been a benchmark for how a modern day shoot out should be like (not counting the greatest shootout of them all in "Heat" (1995) or course).

Léon was great when I first saw it 17 years ago at the ripe age of 16 and it’s still great now, the film has a simple story that never feels convoluted, a superior cast that give wonderful performances and some action scenes that simply kick ass. What more could you possibly ask for? If you’ve seen this movie before and loved it, watch it again there’s no reason not to. If you haven’t seen it yet what are you waiting for someone to hold a gun to your head?

This Blu-ray features two versions of the film, the "original theatrical" cut and the longer "Extended" cut which is also known as the "Longer International Version".

Video

Both the "Theatrical" and "Extended" versions are presented here, framed at the original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen in HD 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression. Previous DVD editions had their minor problems, especially with the "Theatrical" cut version, however this HD transfer looks great. It's nice to see that Sony has spent the money giving us a new transfer that displays brilliantly clarity and detail right down to Léon's stubble and the sweat running down Stansfield's face in the most intense scenes. The image is bright and crisp, the HD image brings out the location photography exceptionally well, New York always looks great on film and here its no exception. The colors are nicely balanced and natural, especially skin tones and black levels. Grain is retained and helps maintain that filmic look we all love so much, it's good to see Sony don't apply DNR to their catalogue titles.

Audio

Three audio tracks are presented here in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as French or Portuguese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround also mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. For the purposes of this review I chose the film's original English DTS-HD audio and first impressions are that this is a considerable improvement over the previously released standard 5.1 track heard on the DVD releases. The dialogue is clean and distortion free, the film's ambient and environmental surrounds are subtle and sound natural. There's a feeling of depth to the scenes as the rich audio mix helps to create an immersive experience. The real bonus is that the action scenes and score truly come alive in this track. The score is well rendered throughout the sound space and the action scenes pop with vibrancy and a weightiness that makes it feel all too real. The gun shots, explosions (especially in that final sequence) are hefty and will put your surround system into overdrive.
Optional subtitles are also included in English, English for the hearing impaired, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

Extras

Sony has released this film with a few extras, a collection of three featurettes, a trivia track and a collection of bonus trailers and is also equipped with BD-Live. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

The first featurette is entitled "10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back" and runs for 24 minutes 33 seconds and includes interviews with producer Patrice Ledoux, actress Maïwenn Le Besco, casting director Todd Thaler, actor Jean Reno, director of photography Thierry Arbogast, actress Natalie Portman, costume designer Magali Guidasci, actor Frank Senger, editor Sylvie Landra, actress Ellen Greene and actor Michael Badalucco. The piece focuses on the experiences this cast and crew had on the film, some of the topics they cover are how the film came about, Reno’s involvement and the casting of Mathilda, shooting in New York, costuming and finding the right look for Mathilda and the cast and crew reflect on the filming of key scenes in the film. Overall this is a very good extra that covers quite a lot but suffers from the obvious exclusion of the film’s director. It would have been nice to hear some of Besson’s thoughts.

Following that is another featurette entitled "Jean Reno: The Road To Léon" which runs for 12 minutes 24 seconds. This piece focuses on Reno and takes a look at his childhood, how he got into acting and his subsequent meeting with Besson. Reno also reflects on playing Léon and collaborating with Besson. This is an informative piece that gives us a unique insight into the life of actor Jean Reno.

The third and final featurette is entitled "Natalie Portman: Starting Young" and runs for 13 minutes 49 seconds. Here the actress discusses the process of getting the part, considering she was just 11 at the time of filming there were a few conditions that her parents had laid out. We also get to see the original screen test for the part. Much like the Reno piece before it, Portman opens up and gives us a few stories from the filming, and is overall a nice extra to have included.

The disc also features a "Fact Track" trivia track that runs along side the film offering up facts and tidbits on the production and cast among other things.

Rounding out the supplements are a series of bonus trailers for:

- "Sony Blu-ray" spot runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds.
- "The Da Vinci Code" runs for 1 minute 6 seconds.
- "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" runs for 1 minute 34 seconds
- "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" runs for 2 minutes 31 seconds.
- "Angels & Demons" runs for 1 minute 11 seconds.
- "Felon" runs for 1 minute 8 seconds.
- "12" runs for 2 minutes 3 seconds.
- "District 9" runs for 2 minutes 21 seconds.
- "Moon" runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds.

There's also BD-Live for those with profile 2.0 player allowing access to the Sony online portal for additional content.

Overall

Léon is simply awesome, it stands as one of the best films Luc Besson has ever made. Its impact and repeat viewing value has not diminished in the years since the film has been out. Sony's Blu-ray offers an excellent image and sound presentation, the extras are a welcomed addition but the lack of involvement from the film’s director was a let down. Perhaps next time we could get an audio commentary of some sort. Overall it’s a nice package and if you don’t already own it, you might want to consider rectifying this glaring omission in your film collection.

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The Film: A Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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