Last week, for my Women Who Wow Wednesday series, I wrote about The Bride, Quentin Tarantino’s blitzkrieg. This week, I’m concentrating on Mathilda, Luc Besson’s hitgirl—raw steal for nerves and a tummy made of iron.
When Natalie Hershlag auditioned for the part of Mathilda in the movie Léon: The Professional, everyone had fallen off their chair for her jarring performance. She would make the perfect compliment to Jean Reno’s hitman character, Léon. Little did anyone know this wonderful actress would grow up to become the celebrated Natalie Portman, who also starred as Evey in 2005’s V for Vendetta.
A child to a father who made a bad deal with drug dealers, Mathilda found herself orphaned by the very people who ought to have protected her—the cops. She turns to her neighbor down the hall at the bloody scene of the murder for protection: Léon, a professional hitman working for the outfit—the organization the very same cops hire to remove the competition.
Well, at least that’s the gist of the movie’s plot. What makes Mathilda unique is her age; she’s twelve years old, and her determination proves her capable of becoming a hitgirl, good enough to exact revenge one day on the scum who murdered her family.
At the time, 1994, the movie proved quite controversial for a number of reasons
- Because of Mathilda’s young age, some critics found her use of firearms unnerving
- Again, because of her young age, those same critics found portions of her performance bordered on the sensual
- Lastly, the violence and language depicted in the film may suggest the filmmakers condoned such behavior in society
Any movie critic wondering about violence, sex, gunplay and kids have yet to watch Sergio Leone’s 1964 film Fistful of Dollars. Produced thirty years before, it remains a classic among film buffs. Guaranteed, a more conservative audience viewed this film back then.
Anyway, back to Mathilda. Under Léon’s tutelage, she learns how to handle a gun, the art of stealth, and proper marking of a target. She learns the professional code of ethics. Mathilda also learns to stop smoking, stop swearing and stop hanging around weird dudes. Critics tend to forget those things when they review the movie for the first time.
She transforms from a lost child to a tough, goal-oriented young girl. However, director Luc Besson never intended her to become a crazed juvenile killer. He wanted her to remain innocent.
What do you think about children portraying roles typically suited for adults? Have you ever seen Léon: The Professional? Would you recommend your friends to see it? What did you think of Natalie Portman’s performance?