Jackie didn’t have a short selected for this week, and to get a break from the Kids In The Hall, I thought maybe a short film from the south-of-the-border folks at MST3K would be some fun. And, no, it didn’t really have anything to do with the feature. It featured Mike and the ‘Bots riffing on a beautiful educational short entitled “A Date With Your Family” (not the Woody Allen story).
If you’ve ever needed to know how to make the women in your family hate you, show them this short. Then tell them to go get you a beer. But hey, enough about the 1950s – we’ve got a 1994 movie to talk about, and it’s got a true Women’s Lib message.
Yep, our feature presentation this week, Léon: The Professional. Directed by Luc Besson (just like last session’s film), it follows another female assassin – or in this case, a wannabe assassin – and it also features (in this case in a co-starring role) Jean Reno. This one, despite technically being a French film, is in English and set in New York’s Little Italy.
The movie starts by establishing Léon (Jean Reno) as a total badass assassin. Given a job to deliver a phone message to a drug dealer who is intruding on someone else’s turf (the message being, um, don’t be doing that) he plows through about 15-20 heavily armed guards and pulls off some pretty awesome (and unexplained) appearances and disappearances from a dark corner. This particular drug dealer doesn’t come back into play, but at least we know what kind of guy Jean Reno is: the assassin with the heart of gold. (“No women, no children” is his motto, and does motivate the plot a bit.)
He’s also kind of a doofus, in that he thoroughly enjoys musicals. I mean, after a hard day of killing, is it so unusual to relax at the oldies theater? OK, maybe it is, but if you can’t read and you don’t have a TV, what else is there to do?
Léon lives in a ramshackle apartment building, and one of his neighbors is Mathilda (Natalie Portman), who enjoys smoking on the balcony and getting beat up by her dad.
And let me just get this out of the way. She’s like 12 or 13 in this movie. And yes, she was a really cute kid. But if you need your Natalie Portman fix, there are any number of films in which you can fantasize about an adult version. There’s Hotel Chevalier (the lead-in film to The Darjeeling Limited) where she takes it all off, and you’ve got Black Swan (from just a few weeks ago) where you get some solo AND girl-on-girl action. So…just don’t. It’s just that I hear a bit too much paedo-talk surrounding this movie. Watch it because it’s a good movie, not because…just don’t.
Anyway, Mathilda pretty much hates her entire family outside of her little brother, and for the short time we’re given an opportunity to see them, it’s pretty obvious why.
I said we only got a short opportunity to see Mathilda’s family because they all end up dead pretty quick. See, Mathilda’s loser dad tried to outsmart a big-time drug dealer by cutting the coke he was given to sell and then selling the rest on his own. That doesn’t usually go over well, and the dealer took down the whole family.
Mathilda survived only because she happened to be out at the corner store at the time and had the foresight to go to Léon’s apartment (the last one down the hall) instead of her own when she sees the fan-feces going down in her own. Léon takes an inordinately long time to decide that he’ll open the door, but you know eventually his murder-hardened heart will soften up just enough to save her life. Otherwise it would have been a pretty short movie.
Mathilda wants two things: to live, and to get revenge for her little brother’s death. And since the bad guys took out her whole family (“No women, no kids”) Léon, normally the kind to be OK with contract-killing, sees a violation of his code. And Mathilda quickly realizes that he’s a “cleaner” and asks to be trained as one. Despite the fact that he has no real interest in having a 12-year-old tagalong, Léon can’t quite bring himself to abandon her, so they move to a new place (away from the heat at Mathilda’s old place) and he reluctantly begins teaching her.
He brings along his ficus plant (at least, I think that’s what it is). He loves that plant, because it represents everything Mathilda is not – for instance, it never talks back, he doesn’t have to cook for it, and he doesn’t have to teach it how to be a sniper.
Unfortunately, Mathilda he does have to teach to be a sniper. Here she snipes an apparently important politician (he’s got armed guards) as he jogs through a park. With a paintball, of course.
But she’s not all hassle, and to help out Léon, she returns to her old apartment, sneaks past the police line, and retrieves a big old wad of cash hidden in the floorboards, cash the police apparently haven’t found yet. And when the police walk in, she not only narrowly escapes being found, but she also learns something quite interesting.
It turns out that her family’s killer is also a highly-placed narcotics officer by name of Stansfield. Perfectly, neurotically played by Gary Oldman. And Mathilda learns where his office is in the DEA building. When Léon is off on a job (coincidentally killing one of Stansfield’s agents over the whole “No women, no children” thing), she steals a few of Léon’s firearms and posing as a food delivery girl, she sneaks into the DEA building to kill Stansfield.
But, of course, Stansfield catches wind of what’s going on and ambushes her himself, capturing her and only sparing her because A) he gets the shocking news that his agent has been knocked off and B) because Léon, having found a note Mathilda left for him, comes to her rescue, knocking off a few more of Stansfield’s men.
Naturally, Stansfield gets a bit ticked off about the whole thing, and shakes down Léon’s handler Tony to figure out who it was what done the deed and where to find him. Tony gets beat up something awful and he’s got a pretty good thing going, so he gives Léon up.
This sets up the climax, where Stansfield and the entire United States Drug Enforcement Agency descend on Léon’s apartment. They wait until Mathilda goes out to the store, then nab her on her way back in, getting the secret knock from her.
She lies about the secret knock. Go figure.
So when some agents enter the apartment and see nobody, they’re caught a bit off guard.
They didn’t really expect death to descend on them from the ceiling. At any rate, Léon retrieves Mathilda and they hole up somewhat hopelessly in the apartment. I mean, like every DEA agent in the country outside of the four or five he just killed are right outside the door.
Léon sends a reluctant Mathilda down a small duct-work escape (with his ficus plant, of course) while telling her he’ll make his way out. He almost does, too, but through subterfuge rather than force. He puts on the clothes and gas mask of one of the dead agents and pretends to be wounded, which gets him almost all of the way out – until Stansfield recognizes him and follows him. And shoots him in the back. But don’t worry – Léon isn’t bitter about it. As he’s expiring on the floor, he even gives Stansfield a present from Mathilda.
Oh, isn’t that sweet? It’s a grenade pin! I wonder where she got i-
And now, Mathilda is on her own and on the run from the DEA. So naturally, she heads back to the really nice boarding school (with a year’s tuition already paid!) she had abandoned to hang out with her deadbeat family. That probably wasn’t a terribly good choice, in retrospect. But no matter, she’s finally back in the place she would have been anyhow except that she’s now the “legal” owner of all of Léon’s money (he kept it with the Bank of Tony) and she’s learned a couple of life lessons and a lot of firearm safety. So I guess it’s a net positive.
And she plants Léon’s ficus right in the path of the riding lawnmower.