No 227 - Leon
Director - Luc Besson
I have been rubbish. I humbly apologise. It has been over a week since I last posted on here and my excuses are feeble. I could maybe blame the TV series I've been watching (30 Rock and Weeds are the main offenders) or the fact that I've been watching films which aren't on the list (Hook and Son of Rambow.... Naughty me). But all this will change now I promise you. Please don't give up on me yet. I have bought some new films and have a fresh vigour for the film blogging world.
So let us look at today's choice... Leon is an odd little contradiction of a film. On one hand it really is quite dark and gritty, and yet on the other hand it is a bonkers riot of OTT excess. But it is very very good. So... before I begin talking about the bonkers aspects to this film let us look at the gritty realism.
Whilst the violence is a key sign of the gritty realism (hell, a 4 year old child is shot dead in the first 30 minutes!) the big thing that you have to talk about when discussing Leon is the 'love' story. It is the kind of thing that makes me think there would have been a lot of controversy when the film was released (sadly, being 9 at the time, I wasn't all that film savvy). Certainly if the film was made nowadays, with our heightened fear of paedophilia, their would have been a media frenzy. Actually.... saying that, I wish to contradict myself. The recent film Birth also shared a similar 'Love Story' between an adult and a child (and actually has far more 'graphic' scenes than Leon) without too much negative press. However, Birth was quite a quiet indie film and Nicole Kidman just looks nicer and more innocent than Jean Reno.
So, after that truly pitiful introduction where I managed to contradict myself on the first line, let us look at Leon and Mathilda's relationship. In many ways their roles in the relationship are in permanent flux, the character's strengths making up for the other's weaknesses. Let us begin by talking about Leon. He is very much the adult, in many ways almost the complete opposite of a child - he is cold, detached, and lives solely for his role in life - An Assassin. However his character also has a massive childish streak. He is very naive, very innocent about day to day occurrences. He also can't read, so Mathilda ends up teaching Leon simple life skills as he teaches her the methods of murder.
You see, whilst Mathilda is TECHNICALLY a 12 year old girl, in many ways she is more adult than Leon. She too is cold, but her coldness is full of hatred and bitterness, rather than a dutiful lack of emotion. One of her first lines in the film is so sad that you begin to see what she might find appealing in the man who is payed to kill:
Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?
Her desperation to learn how to be a 'cleaner' and her ability to manipulate mark her out as a fantastic femme fatale. Just a child version of a femme fatale. One that could kill Tallulah with one hand. It is only her emotions, her impatience and her stubborn streak that truly point her our as being a child. In many ways she has lost all the innocence and playfulness of youth:
I am already grown up, I just get older.
So... let us move on from the downbeat and cast our eyes over Gary Oldman. This is the film that introduced me to the excellence of Mr Oldman, and it is this film which houses everything I love about his acting. Detective Stansfield is actually insane. Psychotically insane. As he dances through a house shooting civilians with a shot gun, sweat pouring off his drug addled face, he is the least subtle corrupt cop I have ever seen.
When he is asked about what happened during the civilian massacre, he flies off the handle and hurls abuse at the investigating policemen and storms off. It is hardly what anyone would call subtle, and yet, he isn't questioned about this. He isn't asked to visit his superior and he has the power to someone allegedly the ENTIRE NYPD to bring down Leon.
However, Gary Oldman's overtly theatrical hammy turn as a villain is just what this film needs to stop it being too serious and depressing, and summoning the EVERYBODY is a masterful stroke as it allows us to see Leon in his full power. Leon's bad-ass assassiny skills are shown in the first scene but since then we have seen him as a slow, stumbling, simple man who frequently fails to understand human interaction. By now the viewer has bonded with Leon, and seeing him in his element is a real exhilaration. It also shows how excellent a director Luc Besson can be, because Leon's character arc is beautifully and tastefully shot with some amazing cinematography. The scenes in the tunnel are especially amazing (don't click the link HERE if you don't want to know how it ends....)
It is a truly great film and shows that having a ridiculous character can sometimes benefit a film (then again, Luc Besson tried it again with Chris Rock in 5th Element and that is just too ridiculous). Surely it is time to see a grown up Mathilda acting as a hitman. That would be awesome.
PS.... Don't you think Paddy Considine looks like Gary Oldman.... No? Is that only me?