Mathilda is a twelve-year old girl who lives with her father, step mother, half-sister and baby brother in a run down New York apartment. With frequent beatings from her father and a bullying sister, it's only her love for her little brother that gives Mathilda a purpose in life. Although the family is poor there is always food on the table and money to pay the rent - but that's only because her father stores drugs for corrupt cop Norman Stansfield. But when his latest stash becomes a lot less pure than it use to be, Norman comes looking for the person who has cut the drugs. But when her father denies that he had anything to do with it, Norman gives him 24 hours to come up with the name of the person who did.
The following day Stansfield and his team turn up for their answers - in full knowledge that they know who cut their drugs. So, without a single shred of compassion, they gun down the entire family - including the youngest member of the family who was caught in the crossfire. Only Mathilda, who was out shopping at the time, survived the massacre and upon returning from the shop, and noticing the carnage and gunmen still present at the apartment, she seeks shelter in the neighbouring apartment - an apartment occupied by a sensitive, and quiet man, who keeps to himself and likes his plants. However, Léon is not all that he appears to be - he's a hitman, and a very good one too.
Mathilda soon discovers that Léon is a hitman, and an extremely good one at that, and she begs him to teach her his skills. For once she has learned all the necessary skills from the master, Mathilda wants to avenge the murder of her beloved brother. Whilst Mathilda can't offer much in return, she offers herself as a maid and teacher to help Léon learn to read. Léon hesitantly accepts her offer and the two begin working together, slowly building an emotional attachment, with Léon becoming both a friend and the father figure she missed. But as Mathilda's skill and confidence increases, it's not long before she's hunting down her families killers - but Norman Stansfield is no fool and, with the power of the police force behind him, Stansfield is not going to go quietly.
Given the age of the film there isn't a massive difference between the image quality of the standard DVD and Blu-Ray editions. However, that doesn't mean it's all bad news as the high definition format certainly brings out a clarity that is missing from the original DVD release. It's never going to be a film to demonstrate the wonders of the format, but the images are crisp and sharp and they offer a good level of detail. As you'd expect, black levels are very solid (just watch the scene with the Fatman for confirmation of this) but there has been very little effort put into cleaning up with transfer - with the occasional bit of print damage from a dust scratch. Still, it's a great film to have on the format and I'm not going to grumble at a few picture imperfections - I just wonder whether a fully remastered version is ever likely to appear.
The original DVD release came equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack whilst the Blu-Ray edition comes with a DTD-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Given that the original soundtrack was a bit of a disappointment, without any remastering, the same can be said here too. Sure, the dialogue is crisp and clear in the centre channel, whilst there's a good amount of stereo steerage in front channels, but the rear channels are stubbornly quiet throughout the film - and given the amount of on screen activity it's a bit of a disappointment. Still, the additional dynamics and bandwidth of the DTS soundtrack does ensure it's sounds a little more involving.
The menu is nicely designed with a score and clips from the film - it's nothing amazing, but it's effective and it works very well. The original DVD releases of Léon were pretty criminal in their lack of extras, so it's great to finally get hold of a release with plenty of extras plus the option to watch either the Original Theatrical or Director's Cut. Unfortunately, considering that this film is part of the Luc Besson collection, it's just a pity that Luc wasn't around to provide any input - such as a Director's Commentary or even an extra Interview. Still, this release from Optimum Home Entertainment is certainly not a disappointment and fans of the film are more than catered for here - even if it's disappointing not to find subtitles on any of the extras.
Missing Luc Besson and Gary Oldman, the twenty-five minute 10 Year retrospective - Making of Featurette brings back the cast and production team for a retrospective look at the film. Unfortunately, they are not all in the same place at the same time, so they all do their bit to camera in different locations and without knowing what each person has said. Never the less, it's a great featurette that offers plenty of background information to the film along with a few little snippets not seen in the film. Next up is the thirteen minute Natalie Portman - Starting Young featurette. It's a great interview with plenty of information about her role - including clips of her audition. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the film, her parents were rather unsure of letting Natalie do the film (although I'm sure a bumper cheque being waved in front of their eyes helped) so they forced quite a few changes - especially the smoking and sexual undertones.
Following on from Natalie Portman's interview there's the twelve minute Jean Reno - The Road To Leon featurette. Given that Jean is much older that Natalie there's been plenty more going on in his life so the articulate and extremely interesting Jean talks about his younger days and his first tentative steps into theatre and, eventually, film. Again, it's an interesting interview - in an almost This is Your Life or Southbank Show style, and Jean doesn't keep anything back with the usual tales that fame and fortune brought. The extras all rounded off with the Theatrical Trailer. All in all, a good collection of extras which more than make up for the rather sparse DVD releases that preceded it.
Most people will associate Natalie Portman with her rather stale role as Queen Amidala in the Star Wars prequels. But it's in Léon where she really shows her true potential - especially since at the time of filming she was eleven years old. It's certainly role that should have been beyond her age, but it's a role she takes on with scene stealing ease - which is no mean feat when you've got the perfectly cast, and wonderfully bonkers, Gary Oldman to go up against. It's no wonder that the film was critically received (if not viewed in great numbers) and can be counted as a bit of a cult classic. It also rates as one of my all time favourite films too.
With an additional twenty-three minutes of footage restored in the Director's Cut, and a whole host of extras too, for those people who bought the original vanilla DVD (like myself), this is the perfect opportunity to upgrade to the Blu-Ray edition with those missing extras. Still, if you've already bought the director's cut on DVD then there's probably very little here to warrant you rushing out to the shops and upgrading. However, if you one of those people who relish their favourite releases in high-definition then I'm not going to dissuade you from upgrading - especially since that's exactly what I'm going to do.
Get yourself a genuine classic on Blu-Ray - get yourself a copy of Leon. It may not be the best looking Blu-Ray titles out there, but for the sheer thrill and action of it, you can't get any better. It's just a pity it's something Hollywood can't reproduce on a regular basis - instead "importing" the amazing talent of people such as Luc Besson. Highly recommended.
- Leon Theatrical and Director's Cut versions
- 10 Year retrospective - Making of featurette
- Theatrical Trailer