Léon: The Professional (2013)
Remastered Director’s Cut
Several years ago I saw—what I thought at the time—was the director’s cut of Léon: The Professional (1994/2010/2013) on DVD. It turns out it must have been a partial director’s cut because this past weekend I stumbled upon an art theater in Seoul which was playing a high-definition (HD) international remastered director’s cut. AND… it had a full twenty-five minutes of extra footage!
I’ve seen Léon: The Professional many times over the years in several versions with different titles. This time, I was pleasantly surprised by several new scenes and also a high-definition transfer.
The new scenes are awesome—I still can’t believe they weren’t included in the original theatrical release. Several of these scenes involve the training of Mathilda (Natalie Portman) by Léon (Jean Reno). These sequences explain many of the nots and bolts of how to be a trained “cleaner” (killer). Many times the duo engage in practice hits with paintball guns, working their way up to actual kills. The original scene with the sniper rifle is intact, but there are at least four new training sequences. This changes the tone of the film drastically because it shows Léon succumbing to Mathilda’s wishes to be trained as a killer in a way absent from the original cut. These new scenes make the viewer wonder if Léon will actually succumb to Mathilda’s sexual advances as well as to her intentions of becoming a killer like him.
These scenes also help develop their already controversial romance (If you’ve seen the previous director’s cut, you’ve already seen some of the dress-up game scenes which heavily play up the forbidden nature of their affair, and Léon’s subsequent awkwardness toward it.). This version includes these clips but also many more that flesh out their unconventional relationship.
One sequence of note adds great emotional weight to the finale where Léon hands corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) the pin from his grenade. This pin becomes a very important token of love, almost a form of wedding ring, and the sacrifice he makes for love becomes stronger in this version. It really enhances the ending of the film, as well as the themes of self-sacrifice and inevitability.
Another great sequence shows how desperate Mathilda is to become a trained killer, so she can exact revenge upon Norman Stansfield for killing her family. She challenges Léon to a game of Russian Roulette. If she wins, he trains her. If she loses, she dies. She nearly loses, and this scene illustrates how far she’s willing to go to have her revenge. It also shows how she’s left her childhood completely behind.
I already thought Natalie Portman’s performance in this film was one of the best of her career, but these added scenes only reinforce my opinion. Her acting is believable beyond her years, and really genuine. It’s no wonder this film made her a star, and the added scenes only make her performance that much better.
The new HD print is gorgeous. It’s amazing this film is twenty years old. Besides the occasional bad suit or mullet, this masterpiece has aged extremely well. The performances by the cast are all top-notch. Natalie Portman is electrifying. Jean Reno has the role of his career and delivers beyond expectation. Gary Oldman plays the perfect sadistic psycho (sadly there isn’t much added of him in this version). And Danny Aiello does an excellent job playing the mafia boss with a soft spot for orphans. Even many of the supporting roles are perfect (see dreadlocked henchman and evil scumbags).
The direction by Luc Besson is handled deftly, and the longer version reinforces how good he is at storytelling. Wikipedia describes Besson’s feelings toward this version of the film via The Guardian:
“There is also an extended version of the film, referred to as ‘international version’ or ‘version intégrale.’ Containing 25 minutes of additional footage, it is sometimes called the ‘Director’s Cut’ but Besson refers to the original version as the Director’s Cut and the new version as ‘The Long Version’.” ["The Guardian interview. Luc Besson". The Guardian (London). 23 March 2000.]
In closing, this version of Léon: The Professional is not to be missed. I haven’t seen the American 2010 DVD release, but I assume this might be the same film, although a few of the added scenes may be a little much for American audiences, so I wonder if I was treated to a unique international experience. Not sure. But it made me remember the greatness of this film. In whatever version it happens to be seen.