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Léon - director's cut
cast: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello

director: Luc Besson

127 minutes (15) 1994
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum blu-ray Region B / DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
Once upon a time, Luc Besson was better known as a director than he was a producer or enabler of films. Léon (or, Léon, The Professional) was one of his more successful movies. Even now, it still remembered as one of the better thrillers of the mid-1990s. However, there is a particular reason why this new DVD version has been released, and I'm not entirely convinced doing so was a good idea.

In the film, hitman Léon (Jean Reno), takes 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman), under his wing after her family has been murdered by rogue DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). She is determined to learn Léon's trade, so she can wreak her revenge of Stansfield. Léon, who is a little simple, is not convinced she is either old enough or cut out for such a career. But eventually he succumbs to her wishes. Unfortunately, she goes after Stansfield before she is ready, smuggling a gun into the DEA office in an attempt to kill him. He catches her before she can do anything. Léon rescues her, Stansfield tracks the pair of them down, and a huge firefight and explosion ensue.

It's a fast-paced and entertaining thriller, a mix of European sensibilities and US thriller action. Both Reno and Portman shine in their roles. Oldman is somewhat over-the-top, and his American accent wobbles a bit in places. The film is neither too serious nor too frivolous - the suspense is lightened by small bits of humour. It all adds up to a film fully deserving of its reputation as a superior example of its type.

So, why a director's cut? And what does it add to what is already a good film? First, this new director's cut is not new. It was originally released in 2005 as the 'longue version' - as is obvious from the 'ten-year retrospective' featurette. It is only new to DVD [and blu-ray] in the UK.

Second, this new version features 23 minutes of additional footage which had been cut from the film after test screenings. And those extra minutes shape much of the shape of the film. In the original release, the story focused on Mathilda's revenge. Léon was merely an enabler - he gave her access to the tools she needed and also, to some extent, trained her in the use of those tools. In the director's cut, the emphasis is now on the relationship between Léon and Mathilda, between a 46-year-old hitman and a 12-year-old girl. She not only wants his help, she is also in love with him - so much so that she asks him to be her first lover (Léon has the good grace to look uncomfortable during this conversation). In a later scene, they eat at a fancy restaurant, and Mathilda drinks wine and gets the giggles. There are also scenes showing Mathilda accompanying Léon on his hits.

When L´┐Żon's mentor and 'banker', Tony (Danny Aiello) tells Léon that Mathilda is no good for him, he's not doing so solely because he wants to keep control of Léon's earnings. It's hard not sympathise with him, since there's something not all together savoury about the relationship between the hitman and the girl. Even back in 1995, skating so close to paedophilia was considered unacceptable - although not, according to some of the crew interviewed in the featurette, in France. In today's moral climate, the merest suggestion of it would be enough to set the tabloids frothing at the mouth.

While Léon still stands up today, and has dated not at all, this new director's cut has done the film few favours. Some of the added scenes - those specific to Mathilda's training and her joining Léon on his hits - are welcome additions and help round out their working relationship. But those scenes which outline their personal relationship should have been left on the cutting-room floor.

The DVD also contains three featurettes: a ten-year retrospective, and a piece on each of the two stars, Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. Bear in mind that these featurettes are themselves five years old.
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