Leon: The Professional (Léon) (Directors Suite) (1994)

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Released 14-Jul-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Featurette-LEON: 10 Year Retrospective
Interviews-Cast-Jean Reno: The Road to Leon
Interviews-Cast-Natalie Portman: Starting Young
Trailer-Original Theatrical trailer
Trailer-Directors Suite trailers
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 127:06 (Case: 133)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (40:56) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Luc Besson
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Reno
Gary Oldman
Natalie Portman
Danny Aiello
Peter Appel
Willi One Blood
Don Creech
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Eric Serra


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English Alternate Subtitles
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Leon: The Professional holds a special place in my heart because it was the first DVD that I imported from the United States (along with Rashomon). I picked up these two DVD's because, at the time, they were highly ranked in the IMDb Top 250 and I couldn't get a Region 4 copy of either film. I picked up the Columbia Superbit Deluxe Edition and was immediately impressed after my very first viewing. That was five years ago and it has taken until mid-2010 for an Australian distributor to release this very fine Luc Besson film locally (thank you Madman!). So why the delay? The answer is due to the subject matter, where a hitman saves an 11 year-old girl and teaches her his profession.

     Luc Besson wrote the film specifically for Jean Reno to play the title role. He based the part on his role as the hitman Victor in his previous film to this one, La Femme Nikita. Jean Reno's part in Leon is completely different to his role as Victor in La Femme Nikita however. Leon is an emotionally naive man who can't read and he has no significant human relationships other than the work he does for his 'Uncle' Tony (played by Danny Aiello), a local mob boss. We see Leon at his clinical best at the beginning of the film. Where the film takes a turn is in the storyline of DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agent Norman 'Stan' Stansfield (played brilliantly by Gary Oldman) who together with his other corrupt agents is using young Mathilda Lando's father as a paid minder of 100% uncut cocaine. When Stan comes to collect he finds that the stash is now only 90% pure, so he comes back the next day with his DEA team and kills Mathilda's entire family. Leon, minding his own business, is forced to make a decision as to whether to take Mathilda into his apartment as she returns from the local corner store and realises that she can't go into her apartment and that she is in danger. When Leon lets her in, Mathilda's and Leon's lives will be forever changed.

     The original cut of Leon: The Professional was 133 minutes long. It was cut to approximately 109 minutes for its US theatrical release to downplay the relationship of Leon and Mathilda in two areas. Firstly, we see Mathilda's emotional attachment to Leon; she falls in love with him, but he refuses her requests for intimacy. Secondly, there are a few scenes where we see Leon train Mathilda in his 'profession'. US test audiences reacted negatively to Mathilda's request for intimacy from Leon, hence the cuts that were made to the film by Besson and producer, Patrice Ledoux.

     Despite the young age of Mathilda and the concept of a young girl falling in love with a man, which is difficult for rational people to accept of course, the beauty of this film is that Leon himself in many ways is emotionally 11 years old. Mathilda's and Leon's relationship is a mutual coming-of-age for both characters. Natalie Portman will be forever remembered for her role as an actress in this film (and possibly V for Vendetta), despite her notoriety for playing Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Gary Oldman is also at his best as the neurotic and corrupt cop, Stansfield. Critics have stated that his performance in the role was 'over-the-top', and I can concur that it is a bit difficult to see how the character of Stansfield could lead a Drug Enforcement Agency Unit, but it is Gary Oldman after all, and really 'what’s not to like'?

     For me, this is Luc Besson's finest film, made while he was taking a break from developing The Fifth Element, which would become his next film. If Luc Besson could write and direct films as good as La Femme Nikita and Leon: The Professional, it's a shame that he has not directed any major films lately. Leon has been in the IMDb Top 100 since the top 250 concept was created in 1997. It has not been below No. 50 in the last five years. At the time of writing this review it is No. 34 in the list.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The video transfer is sourced, in my opinion, from a high-definition source, and is a port of the Blu-ray Region B Australian release of Leon: The Professional.

     The aspect ratio is 2:35:1, 16x9 enhanced. Unlike the 2005 Columbia Tri-Star United States Region 1 DVD release, the main presentation and extras has not been split over two discs. Hence the reason for the average bitrate on this Madman Region 4 release of 5.63 m/b per sec. Despite the lower bitrate (the Region 1 2005 Deluxe Edition has an average bitrate of 6.91 m/b per sec.), this transfer is reasonably sharp for DVD and free of film artefacts.

     The cinematography seems to emphasise more neutral colours such as light browns and yellows. In fact, I would say the transfer of Leon has a cyan tint to it.

     As Leon was made on a lower budget of $US18 million there is slight film grain evident throughout, but not enough to distract the viewer. There is also a hint of edge enhancement used in some scenes in this transfer.

     Subtitles are presented in English in default yellow or white.

     The RSDL change occurs at 40:56 during a scene transition. Unfortunately, the pause is quite noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
Colour
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Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio transfer is not a reference quality track, but it supports the action theme of the film well. There are two main soundtracks. The first is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 448 kbps, the second is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded at 224 kbps.

     Dialogue is clear and the audio is synchronised, although you may need the subtitles to make out Jean Reno's dialogue in English at times.

     The musical score references Shape Of My Heart by Sting and Venus As A Boy by Bjork. Eric Serra's background music is quite eclectic, with traditional Italian scores and modern 90s synthesised beats mixed in with an action score.

     The surround channels are utilised in this soundtrack during action scenes, especially for the direction of gunfire. The subwoofer is used for shotgun blasts and explosions, of which there are quite a few!

Audio Ratings Summary
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Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
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Subwoofer
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Extras

LEON: 10 Year Retrospective (25:10)

     This 25 minute featurette looks back at the making of Leon and includes most of the cast and crew. Producer Patrick Ledoux, casting director Todd Thaler, costume designer Magalie Guidasci, Director of Photography Thierry Arbogast are the crew members who discuss how Besson came about writing the film, how Natalie Portman was cast, Mathilda's wardrobe and shooting in New York City. Cast members include Frank Senger (The Fat Man), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother) and Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Natalie Portman, Maiwenn (Blond Babe) and Jean Reno who each discuss their roles and respective scenes. This is an interesting behind-the-scenes look into the production of Leon: The Professional. It's a shame we couldn't get Luc Besson and Gary Oldman to share their thoughts also.

Jean Reno: The Road to Leon (12:25)

     Jean Reno discusses his childhood in Casablanca, Morocco and his early military training. After meeting Luc Besson in 1981 he would feature in all the director's films up to making Leon.

Natalie Portman: Starting Young (13:50)

     Natalie Portman shares how she got the role of Mathilda. She discusses the contract that her parents imposed upon the production team, which included limits on smoking and the cutting of more explicit scenes. Gary Oldman is mentioned as a consummate actor who truly made Natalie anxious as he was so convincing! Portman also discusses the use of weapons and generally comes across as nostalgic in her memory of the role.

Original Trailer (1:49)

     The original trailer is presented here, not 16x9 enhanced.

Directors Suite Trailers

     Four Directors Suite trailers are included for Michael Haneke's Hidden, Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, Gus Van Sant's Elephant and Brian De Palma's Redacted.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The thing about Leon: The Professional and its releases onto DVD is the fact that it's been released in almost every Region, sometimes multiple times, before finally been released in Region 4.

     In Region 1 there are three Columbia Tri-Star releases that have no extras. The Columbia Tri-Star Deluxe Edition includes a DTS soundtrack, a trivia-based fact track and the same three extras as the Madman Region 4 2010 release, albeit on a second disc.

     In Region 2, Gaumont releases in the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands include no extras. The German Kinowelt Home Entertainment release has the same specifications as the Region 1 Columbia Tri-Star Deluxe release with an added Cast and Crew: Biographies and Filmographies extra, International Poster campaign extra and a photo gallery. The Paramount Japanese release does not include the three Madman Region 4 extras, but it does feature text-based extras and a DTS soundtrack. Paramount also brought out a limited edition release in Japan which included both cuts of the film, although the cut version was only about 70 minutes in length.

     The Region 3 Korean Spectrum Anniversary Edition release also included both versions of the film, the three Madman extras and a DTS soundtrack. The original Korean Spectrum Special Edition included both cuts, an isolated music score, but no DTS track or extras.

     In my opinion, the best available releases on DVD are the Region 1 2005 Columbia Tri-star Deluxe Edition and the Madman Directors Suite Region 4 release. Although the Region 1 release has a poorer video transfer which includes 30 minutes of interlacing, the Region 4 release has a lower bitrate as the extras are all included on one disc, instead of being spread out over two discs like the Region 1 Deluxe Edition.

Summary

     Leon: The Professional reminds me of the French New Wave directors in the 1960s who made films that were influenced by Hollywood cinema and seemed 'American'. I feel Luc Besson has made Leon a very 'American' film, with a French cinematic undertone, despite Leon supposedly being Italian (Jean Reno's does not really alter his accent here, he still sounds very French) and when Leon tells Mathilda that there are rules in the hitman profession, I wonder if Besson is laughingly referencing Jean Renoir's character who delivers the exact same lines in The Rules of the Game.

     Leon: The Professional is more than an action film, it's a sympathetic look at two extraordinary human beings who are isolated because of their circumstances, yet still manage to make a meaningful connection in this New York City corrupt world which Besson presents us with in the film. Mark my words, this is Luc Besson's greatest film and we should be thankful that Madman Directors Suite label has finally brought it out onto DVD and Blu-ray for Region 4 consumers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Monday, August 09, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

Other Reviews NONE
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