Léon (Jean Reno) lives a lonely life in New York, working as a professional hitman for the mob. Near-slient and utterly ruthless, Léon doesn't seem to possess an ounce of humanity. But when his 12-year-old neighbour, Mathilda (Natalie Portman), arrives home to find her entire family massacred by a drug dealer, Léon takes her in and, as per her request, teaches her the tools of his trade so that she can exact her revenge on her family's killer.
Luc Besson’s taste for wacky plots, extravagant action and grandiose romance reached its climax with this deeply strange and much-loved crime movie about a 12-year-old girl, Mathilda, (Natalie Portman), who is rescued by a hit man after her family is massacred by a crazed NYPD detective, played with paint-scrapping vigour by Gary Oldham.
Jean Reno is Leon, a kind of a killer with 'a heart of gold’ character; innocent and childlike, he dotes on his house plant, drinks milk and loves Gene Kelly movies. Mathilda falls in love with him. In the long version (found here) on this really superb looking DVD release from Madman, there are quite a few scenes included that US preview audiences rejected; like Mathilda getting drunk in a restaurant and another where she suggests she become Leon’s 'lover’. According to producer Patrice Ledoux, interviewed in a short 'making of’ doco included on the DVD’s extra features, this kind of content, no, this kind of relationship, was in no way mysterious to the French filmmakers of Leon. Maïwenn Le Besco (she plays a bit part in the film, a prostitute) who was married to Besson for a time, says in the same featurette that Leon is about her relationship with Besson. She says they met while she was still an adolescent, and eventually they started dating when she was fifteen. Still, the relationship in the film stays 'innocent’ (as well as frankly a bit icky). The 'making of’ reveals that at the urgings of Portman and her very protective parents, some of Besson’s more 'extreme’ beats concerning the film’s central relationship were excised at script stage; like a scene where Leon accidentally walks in on Mathilda as she takes a shower (he’s embarrassed, she’s oblivious!).
Still, no matter what uncomfortable undercurrents the film gives rise to, Besson’s skill with action is inventive and creative (and of course over the top). You won’t soon forget Reno’s steel-like nerves as he faces down what seems like the entire NYPD force!