Léon: The Professional

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The Professional -- also known as Léon -- is a 1994 film directed by Luc Besson which stars Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Natalie Portman in her first major role.

Leone "Léon" Montana (Reno) is a quiet, skilled assassin whose next-door neighbors were just gunned down by drug runners; the only survivor of the massacre is 12-year-old Mathilda Lando (Portman), who begs Léon to save her from the corrupt cops who murdered her family. Léon reluctantly takes Mathilda under his wing and, at her insistence, teaches her in the ways of his trade. Mathilda is intent on avenging her family by going after the Dirty Cop responsible for their murder -- and Léon is intent on keeping Mathilda safe at all costs.

This film is not to be confused with The Professionals (a British TV series) or Le Professionnel (another French film with Jean-Paul Belmondo as its star).


Tropes used in Léon: The Professional include:
  • Abusive Parents: Mathilda's parents fall under this trope, which is likely why she doesn't care when she finds out they're dead.
  • Adorkable: Léon
  • Affably Evil: Tony comes across as a nice guy and even throws children's birthday parties in his lair -- but he also orders several dozen people murdered over the short period of time in which the film takes place.
  • Air Vent Passageway: This trope is subverted: Léon shoots and hacks out the hotel's ventilator fan so Mathilda can slide down to ground level, but there's not enough room for him.
  • All of Them
  • Artistic License Geography: At the end of the film, Mathilda is at the Spenser School, which (according to the headmistress's telephone conversation) is supposed to be in Wildwood, New Jersey. In the final moments before the credits, the school is shown to overlook the Hudson River and Manhattan -- but Wildwood is an oceanfront community near the tip of Cape May, over 150 miles away from New York City. (These scenes were filmed at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken.)
  • Asshole Victim: Mathilda's parents and older sister fall under this trope.
  • Ax Crazy: While ostensibly the leader of the corrupt cops, Stansfield is so psychotic, his second-in-command has to take charge when he becomes too wrapped up in slaughter.
  • Badass: Léon
  • Badass and Child Duo
  • Bare Your Midriff: Mathilda likes to do this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Léon dies, but Mathilda gets her revenge -- and "Léon's" roots can grow, now.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The protagonists are a hitman and a young girl interested in killing people, while the antagonist is a Complete Monster of a corrupt cop.
  • Bob Haircut: Mathilda
  • Bodyguard Crush: Mathilda has one of these for Léon.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Stansfield is rather eccentric, to say the least: he discusses classical music during hits, is careless about where he points his gun, and frequently switches from absolute calm to screaming rage and back.
  • Camping a Crapper: Mathilda tries to ambush Stansfield in the restroom, but Stansfield is hiding behind the door instead of sitting in one of the booths.
  • Cassandra Truth: This trope is inverted. The headmistress of the orphanage doesn't believe Mathilda's story about her parents being killed in a car crash, but does believe the story about living with a hitman and being chased by corrupt DEA agents.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The "Ring Trick" foreshadows the very end of the film. (The American theatrical cut doesn't feature the set-up, effectively averting the trope).
    • A played straight example is in the bathroom when Stan pulls his gun on Mathilda. It isn't until the Stan shoots Leon with said gun that the trope is completed, coinciding with the "Ring Trick" as mentioned above, making this scene doubly explosive. (Other tropes climax here too, making it a powerful scene).
  • Chekhov's Skill: Léon's seen doing crunches/sit-ups in early scenes of the film, and he tries to teach Mathilda how to do them while training her. These exercises allow him to hang from the ceiling unseen and ambush Stansfeld's men during the climatic showdown.
  • Celibate Hero: Léon hasn't had a girlfriend since his first love was murdered.
  • Companion Cube: The plant is Léon's "best friend".
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: In the final act, Léon takes on a heavily-armed SWAT unit by himself -- and gets away. Léon is only stopped when Stansfield sneaks up on him from behind.
  • Cool Shades: Léon's trademark killing ensemble includes a pair of vintage 1990's round sunglasses.
  • Crapsack World: New York City in the 1990s is not a happy place.
  • The Danza: Reggae singer Willi One Blood plays one of Stansfield's goons; another character calls him "Willi", and Stansfield calls him "Blood".
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Stansfield knows the confrontation with Léon is going to be a difficult one; he tells the assault team to be careful while staying out of the shooting. Once the team is beaten -- as he expects -- he sends in backup in full force and is still prepared to counter the quiet exit Léon attempts.
  • Dawson Casting: Luc Besson averted this with Natalie Portman (who was eleven years old during filming); he resisted early attempts to cast older actresses despite knowing such a call would have made things easier for him.
  • Dead Little Brother: Mathilda doesn't give a damn about the rest of her family -- but the bastards who killed her little brother must die.
  • Dirty Cop: Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A uniformed policeman misses Mathilda entering a crime scene because he's flirting with a woman from the building.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Léon wears the uniform of a SWAT officer killed during the raid on his apartment in order to escape through the cordon of police.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Léon's death scene counts -- especially since he takes Stansfield with him.
  • Empty Elevator
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • One of Stanfield's men reacts with horror when Mathilda's brother ends up getting accidentally killed by Blood; he's heard shouting angrilly at Blood later in the scene. Killing the rest of the family apparently fell within his standards.
    • Léon refuses to take jobs which involve killing women or children.
    • Léon also refuses to take Mathilda on the job at the end as it is "too big" - he knows she won't stand a chance.
  • Executive Veto: The American theatrical version of the film cut certain shocking or morally gray scenes of the film, including the most Lolicon-ish aspects of the Léon/Mathilda relationship and scenes of Mathilda accompanying Léon on his assassinations. These cuts change the film's characterizations drastically: in the edited version, Mathilda remains far more pure and ends the film without blood on her hands, allowing her to return to a reasonably normal life, but in the unedited version, she's helped kill over a dozen people (which doesn't fit with her hesitation to kill Stansfield nor her apparent rehabilitation at the end). It totally fits the end. She is an amoral manipulator.
  • Fake Nationality:
  • Famous Last Words

Leon: "This is from Mathilda."
Stansfield: "Shit..."

Mathilda: "What's your name?"
Léon: "Léon."
*drinks*
Mathilda: "Cute name."
*Spit Take*

Mathilda: "Follow the blue car."
Cab Driver: "I suppose you want me to blast the music and go through the red lights?"
Mathilda: "No, I want you to drive slowly, take the hundred bucks and shut the fuck up, okay?"

  • Foot Popping: This trope is spoofed. When Léon rescues Mathilda from the police station, she throws herself into his arms, and the camera cuts to a shot of their feet -- Mathilda's are hanging a foot above the ground.
  • Friend or Foe: Stansfield's gang nearly shoot one another on several occasions during the massacre, and at least one SWAT trooper is killed this way.
  • Guns Akimbo
  • Gun Kata: A shotgun-toting Stansfield moves to the Ludwig Van in his head while massacring Mathilda's family.
  • Gun Porn
  • He Knows Too Much: The night after Léon takes Mathilda into his home, he's staring at the ceiling while she's asleep -- before he leaps up, attaches a silencer to his pistol, and places the gun against Mathilda's head. Despite knowing the burden she'll be on him, Léon can't pull the trigger -- and depending on the interpretation, this might have been an aborted Mercy Kill instead.
  • Hypocritical Humor:

Léon: "Stay away from him, he looks like a weirdo.

Léon: No women, no kids. That's the rules.

  • More Dakka: After Léon wipes out their entry team, the SWAT team brings up a tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun -- then shoves a rifle grenade into the muzzle and blasts it through the door into Léon's apartment.
  • Noodle Incident: Léon's overseas affair somehow figures into his current role. This is explained in the International Cut as his girlfriend's death. Due to Léon's family being less respectable than her's, her father killed her when she ignored his request to end the affair. Léon killed the father in revenge, then fled to America to join his father, who was already working for Tony.
  • No Peripheral Vision: Léon hides above the doorway as the SWAT team enters his apartment. To be fair, they are wearing gas masks, which restrict vision quite a bit.
  • Pineapple Surprise: This is how Léon kills Stansfield and himself.
  • Oh Crap: "This is from Mathilda."
    • This also happens a few minutes earlier, during Léon's battle with the SWAT team:

Do you see him?
Yes. He's right here. He's got a gun to my head.

  • Only a Flesh Wound: Léon gets shot in the shoulder by an assault rifle while hanging upside down. After dropping one of his guns and grimacing, he shoots the SWAT guy and manages to pull himself back up above the door.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: A not-so-subtle caricature of a jogging Clinton serves as Mathilda's sniper training.
  • Papa Wolf: Léon is one for Mathilda.
  • Pet the Dog: Léon -- still very much having the aura of a ruthless killer at this point -- and the piggy scene counts as this.
  • Pop Cultural Osmosis Failure: In an imitation game, Léon fails to recognize Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin, while Mathilda confuses John Wayne with Clint Eastwood.
  • Professional Killer: Léon is a subversion of the hitman archetype.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Leon is a merciless assassin while on the clock. On his own time, he's almost childishly innocent.
  • The Reveal: Stansfield and his men appear to be just another drug gang; when they hear police sirens approaching after the massacre, Stansfield's Number Two calmly says they've got to go, but Stansfield tells one of his mooks to stay behind.

Willi: "What do you want me to tell them?"
Stansfield: "Tell them...we were doing our jobs."

  • Russian Roulette: Mathilda does this to show she's ready to become a killer. Léon knocks her hand away at the last second, which is just as well because the revolver goes off.
  • Self-Stitching: Léon fixes himself up in the shower after suffering an off-camera injury during a hit.
  • Senseless Violins: Léon is shown carrying an instrument case when moving house, though he never removes a weapon from it.
  • Shout-Out: Léon signs into a hotel registry under the name "Mr. MacGuffin".
  • Spiritual Successor: Colombiana
  • Spit-Take: Of milk. Virtually a Running Gag.
  • Staged Shooting: A paintball round is used against a jogger. In the international version, it seems the same thing is happening again when Mathilda shoots a mark and leaves only a red splatter, but Léon casually kills the mark after pointing out to Mathilda what she did wrong.
  • Taking You with Me: "This is from Mathilda".
  • Teach Me How to Fight: Mathilda trades reading lessons for training in the assassin's arts. The two different versions of the film differ on how much training she actually receives.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Stansfield sends two hundred SWAT officers with an RPG -- while regular cops establish a perimeter -- after one man and and a twelve-year-old girl in a cramped apartment building.

Stansfield: I said take the guy out, not the whole fucking building!

  • Training Montage: Mathilda learns gun handling, milk drinking, and chin-ups. She is not happy about the last two.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mathilda, full stop. A lot of this stems from the fact that the character was originally written to be sixteen, not twelve, and there being no re-writes when Portman was cast.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Stansfield has a classic one near the end.

Stansfield: Bring me everyone.
Benny: What do you mean, "everyone" ?
Stansfield: EVVV-REEE-OOOOONNNNEEE!