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After watching director Luc Besson’s uncut version of LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL ($25) for the first time, I was blown away by this stylized action movie with decidedly European sensibilities. Like most action movies, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL has a plot that pretty much defies belief. However, the film resonates with a certain power, thanks to the superb performances of Jean Reno and a youthful Natalie Portman, who conveys a loss of innocence- with an alarming quality. As for Jean Reno, he is a marvelous actor, and is so good in this film, that one has to wonder why he doesn’t get better roles stateside. In LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, Reno is truly outstanding in the title role of an assassin, who rediscovers his humanity in a very surprising way.

After her family is gunned down in the apartment next door, a twelve-year-old Mathilda (Portman) seeks shelter with Leon. Although Leon initially wants nothing to do with the child, he takes pity on Mathilda and allows her into his apartment. Mathilda quickly discovers how the mysterious Leon makes his living, and then makes a startling request- she wants to learn Leon’s trade, so she can personally deal with the men that killed her family. As I stated above, the plot of LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL sounds absurd, but one director Luc Besson really makes the characters the focus of the story, instead of the situations. Additionally, Besson stages the film’s violent action sequences so well, that the audience becomes lost in the moment, instead of thinking how unbelievable the ever-escalating situation becomes. The cast of LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL also features a completely over-the-top Gary Oldman, as well as a more reserved Danny Aiello.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has made LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL comes to Blu-ray with a fairly terrific looking 1080p presentation that easily bests the previous DVD editions. On Blu-ray, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL appears more film-like and dimensional than it did previously. Image clarity, sharpness and detail are impressive, especially in close-ups and in brightly lit exteriors. Some softness does creep into individual shots; also, darker sequences are a little less defined, but not too badly. Colors are generally, warm and nicely saturated, in addition to producing realistic flesh tones. Blacks are generally accurate and the whites appear crisp. Contrast is fairly smooth. Shadow detail can be a bit wanting, but it seems intentional. The elements from which LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL has been transferred appear are pretty clean. Grain is a bit variable, becoming more noticeable in darker sequences, but it all looks just right.

LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound here is a big improvement over the DVD edition, which seemed bereft of surround information. Much of LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL plays in the talky drama mode, with the majority of the sound being localized front and center. Action sequences are opened up and spread to the outlying channels, which are effectively deployed. Had this been an American production, the sound might have been more overbearing, but the mix seems to keep its priorities straight. The lossless encode bolsters the sound effects and music. Dialogue is crisp and completely intelligible. French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some supplements. First of all, the Blu-ray offers both the Theatrical Version and Extended Version of the film. Additionally a text-based Fact Track can be accessed while watching the Extended Version of the film. Featurettes and other programs include the following: 10 Year Retrospective: Cast And Crew Look Back (twenty five minutes), Jean Reno: The Road To 'Léon' (twelve minutes) and Natalie Portman: Starting Young (fourteen minutes). Some Bonus Trailers close out the supplements.

As action movies go, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL is more emotionally satisfying than most other releases in the genre. The Blu-ray looks and sounds pretty great, and marks a worthwhile upgrade from standard definition. Recommended.



Léon: The Professional (Theatrical and Extended Edition) [Blu-ray] (1994)


DVD & Blu-rayDisc reviews are Copyright © 2009 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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