In 1994, Luc Besson had already made a name for himself as a filmmaker internationally through his work on the films La Femme Nikita and La Grand Bleu. If there was any mark against him, it was that his work was often criticized for being all gloss, no substance, and overly violent. Surely Nikita, or La Femme Nikita as it is known in the US, might easily fit that description. The world, then, was not quite prepared for what was still to come from the writer/director in the form of Léon (known in the US as The Professional).
Léon is French director Luc Besson’s, slickly stylized and controversial 1994 film about an Italian hitman or “cleaner,” Léon, who befriends a young 12-year-old girl, Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after her entire family is killed by crooked DEA agents. When he takes the girl into his apartment to save her from the men looking to kill her, the two quickly develop a bond and the young girl is drawn to the lonely hitman, asking him to train her as a cleaner.
As the two grow closer together, Mathilda professes her love for Léon, and begins to try to seduce him into taking her virginity and also tries to hire him to kill the men who killed her family. Natalie Portman, in her first starring role, displays a talent far beyond her years here and certainly hints at things to come (notwithstanding the Star Wars prequels). In fact, in the supplements on this disc, Portman explains how landing this role helped her to avoid the typical child star trap of doing kids movies, as she would from this point on be viewed as an “adult” leading actress. I would be remiss to not also point out Gary Oldman’s typically strong character performance as the corrupt and murderous, drug addicted DEA agent Stansfield.
What makes Besson’s film controversial, obviously, is the awkward, to many, sexual overtones of the relationship between the precocious young Mathilda and the unsuspecting Léon. Initially, the longer, so-called, “International Version” of the film, which contained some 33-minutes of additional scenes exploring the relationship between Mathilda and Léon was available only in Japan. Eventually, the extended edition was released to DVD and laserdisc, but, alas, only in Europe and Japan. Anyone who has seen the extended version of the film knows that it is superior to the gutted version that, for many years, was the only one made available to US consumers.
Altogether, this extended version of Léon not only makes for a great action film, but, even more, a wonderful character study and exploration of human sexuality, loneliness, friendship and love that crosses all boarders and boundaries. It’s not a film for prudes or the squeamish, but with that being said, its controversy has been far too played up. It’s a quiet film about two unusual people brought together by extraordinary circumstances and it is definitely some of the best of Besson’s work.
The 4K remastered Blu-ray from two years ago looked fantastic, this disc, mastered with HDR10 and offered up in a 2160p “4K” HEVC encodement looks just stunning. The crispness of the film grain and the extended depth of field are at once noticeable. What is also noticeable at once are the way the colors ‘pop’. This isn’t exactly known for being a colorful film, but thanks to the WCG (Wide Color Gamut), things look a lot more lifelike from the get go. The opening hit man sequence with Jean Reno in the luxury apartment offers up some stunning colors, but so does the scene with Reno in the grocery store early on – just look at how the labels on the products really leap from the screen.
When I last reviewed this film on Blu-ray for the 2015 4K remaster it had the same Atmos track, but I had not yet made the upgrade. The mix sounded great then played back in 7.1 TrueHD on my 9.1 system, but now it is even better in the true, immersive Atmos version with superb overhead ATMOSpherics (I couldn’t resist). As suspected, in the final act when the bullets begin to fly and the explosions start coming at a frenzied pace, this mix is really at its best.
There’s nothing new added to this Ultra HD release over the 2015 4K-remastered Blu-ray. In fact, the Blu-ray included alongside the Ultra HD disc is identical and contains all the same, ported-over standard definition features plus the HD theatrical trailer. Digital HD UltraViolet is also included.
- Theatrical & Extended Director’s Cut on Ultra HD
- Blu-ray Disc
- Digital HD UltraViolet
- 10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back (1.78:1; SD; 00:25:10)
- Jean Reno: The Road to Léon (1.78:1; SD; 00:12:25)
- Natalie Portman: Starting Young (1.78:1; SD; 00:13:49)
- Fact Track (Extended Version)
- Theatrical Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p/24; 00:02:25)
The Final Assessment
What is arguably Luc Besson’s most classic film is reissued in a stunning Ultra HD release from Sony that has the film looking and sounding better than this reviewer ever thought possible. This new Ultra HD version becomes hands down the definitive version of Léon to own.
[Editor’s Note: The release reviewed here and linked to below is a Best Buy Exclusive]
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