Dir: Luc Besson
Star: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman, Danny Aiello

Trash City
Top 50 Film
Besson had been building towards top-class action potential through his first four features, and finally hit the bullseye with the fifth. While set in New York, it's a concept that could never be made in Hollywood: not so much for the mob killer being the hero, as for the 12-year old (Portman, in her feature debut) who accompanies him, after her family, who live next door to Leon (Reno), is wiped out by Oldman and his posse of corrupt DEA agents. The transgressive potential of their relationship - even if never realized - was enough to get it shorn of 25 minutes for its US release as a result. But looking at it now, it's clear that Leon could never even contemplate such a possibility, and for the vast bulk of the time, it comes over more as a father-daughter movie than anything else. As such, it's one of the most tender, completely platonic relationships ever in an action movie.

All three leads are amazing. Portman delivers one of the best by an actress her age (she was only eleven when cast), while Leon's stoicism is betrayed almost entirely by the emotions he puts over in his eyes. The latter's stillness is a particularly-sharp contrast to Oldman, who chews the scenery to marvellous effect. I've realized how, in many of my favourite films, the villain is one of the most memorable aspects, and that's true here, in spades: Oldman's Stansfield is a complete loose-cannon, who could do anything to anyone at any time, and that's what makes him dangerous, combined with rat-like cunning. There isn't an aspect of the movie that's less than a joy, from the beautifully-fluid cinematography through to Eric Serra's marvellous score, and the final assault, in which an every-increasing stream of SWAT men assault Leon's apartment, is one of the most beautifully-choreographed and paced action sequences of all time. [Not least for Stansfield screaming, "Bring me everyone... EVERYONE!"] And the moments which follow it, with Leon heading out of the darkness and into the daylight, provoke tears and cheers in closer proximity than any other movie I've seen.

[February 2010]

Professional grade
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