Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Léon: The Professional

The opening scene to the movie Léon: The Professional has to be one of the best choreographed action sequences ever put on film. Starring Jean Reno as Léon, Natalie Portman as Mathilda and Gary Oldman as the corrupt narcotics officer Norman Stansfield, the motion picture’s visually stunning aspects sets it apart from other cop narratives to demonstrate what a true plot-driven story is all about.

Léon: The Professional
Léon: The Professional

Today I’m proud to include Léon in my Wednesday Warriors weekly series.

Released in 1994, Léon: The Professional became one of the most provocative movies for that era. Beginning with its North American premier, critical controversy followed the film wherever it went. One of the reasons for this had to do with how the violence and language depicted in the presentation may suggest the filmmakers condoned such behavior in society. Another valid point had to do with Natalie Portman’s young age. Some critics found the twelve-year-old’s use of firearms unnerving. Lastly, and again because of Portman’s young age, those same critics found portions of her performance bordered on the sensual.

Any movie critic wondering about violence, sex, gunplay and kids have yet to watch Sergio Leone’s 1964 film A Fistful of Dollars. Produced thirty years before, it remains a classic among film buffs. Guaranteed, a more conservative audience viewed this film back then.

Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional
Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional

Anyway, back to Léon. Director Luc Besson‘s main character stands on the cusp of little boy and repressed man. He kills without conscience. He does what he is told. And he does his job well. Before Mathilda appears in his life, Léon lives a quiet existence with his plant and his routine. If anything, his daily routine is what the audience relates to the most. Waking up. Drinking milk. Putting out the plant on the ledge. They are the things the audience knows all too well. Everyone’s done it.

The difference with the audience and Léon is he knows how to kill efficiently. He knows his way around weapons. He’s a master of the set-up. And just when the audience thinks it has him figured out, in pops Mathilda, Léon’s next door neighbor from a couple of doors down the hall. Her parents die in a drug deal gone wrong and she’s on Léon’s doorstep asking for help.

Léon’s relationship with his new friend is an interesting one. Although he acts as the father figure, teaching Mathilda how to be an assassin—yes, this really happens—when he’s alone with her, he demonstrates childlike qualities that allow him to relate to her on her level. During one of their fun-filled evenings, they dress in different costumes as a way to pass the time. They each have to guess what the other has dressed up as.

If anything is true about Léon, it’s that he is a sincere man who hasn’t grown up. In that adult body dedicated to the death of others lies a boy at heart who never matured emotionally and remains stunted in development.

Léon may be a brutal killer, but his kindhearted nature toward others may be the redeeming quality that sets him apart from other assassins.

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Have you seen Léon: The Professional? If so, what did you find interesting about it?

Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Man with No Name

Growing up, I had a hero. He wasn’t a sports hero, a superhero or a musician. Nor was he a TV or movie star. He had an unassuming walk, and he seemed quite harmless—that is if you look at him for what he represented. I always thought of him as enterprising. But that’s just me.

Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood

I’m talking about the Man with No Name, the character Clint Eastwood portrayed in 1964 that made him an international superstar. What would Wednesday Warriors be if I didn’t feature this taller-than-life character for my weekly series?

Directed by Sergio Leone, A Fistful of Dollars brought to life a character so rich in detail and so vivid in breadth that Leone had to direct two other movies (For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) to solidify the Man with No Name’s legend in the annals of the great American Western.

Known as Joe, Manco and Blondie, based on chronological appearance in the films, Clint Eastwood’s interpretation of a man who happens to wander in the middle of a feud turns into a battle cry for opportunity. The character pits families and armies against each other all in an effort to gain a profit from the animosity created.

Smoking cheap cigars and wearing a Mexican shawl, anyone else would consider him a regular nobody. But his adversaries can’t help but notice how he towers over them at six-foot-four and carries under his shawl a peacemaker called a Smith & Wesson.

Man with No Name
Man with No Name

In his first gunfight, he asks the local undertaker to prepare three coffins. He then strolls to the center of town challenging a group of hoodlums to apologize to his mule for scaring it with their errant gunfire. They were only teasing. He understands, but you see, the mule didn’t take kindly to the suggestion they were only fooling. Now if they’d apologize, like he knows they would, everything would be fine.

They don’t apologize.

When the Man with No Name passes by the undertaker once more he simply says, “My mistake” and holds up his fingers, “four.”

In the second and third movies, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly being the most popular, the character establishes his gunfighter prowess by eliminating one gang after another with a mission to gain as much gold as he can in the shortest possible time. His nicknames range from The Stranger, The Hunter to The Bounty Killer. However, if you think the character is all rock and no velvet, he does have a soft side. He reunites a little boy with his mother and sends them away, to the chagrin of the local gang who had held the boy for other nefarious intents.

Clint’s character also suffers brutal beatings at the hands of the gangs when he tries to do what he feels is best for everyone in a situation.

What I like most about the character Man with No Name though, is how the strong and silent type became a template for other actors in future films, even up to this day. To the merit of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, the character typifies that not every situation in life deserves words.

Sometimes, all we need is action.

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RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Have you seen any of the Man with No Name movies starring Cling Eastwood? What do you think of them?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Mathilda

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.

Natalie Portman as Mathilda
Natalie Portman as Mathilda

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.

Léon and Mathilda
Léon and Mathilda

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.

Léon: The Professional
Léon: The Professional

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?