What a great film! The Professional stars Jean Reno as a “cleaner”, aka hit man, Leon. He’s a loner that lives by himself. His only friend is his plant which he cleans and takes care of everyday. His whole life is turned upside down when a little girl from a neighboring apartment unit Mathilda, Natalie Portman in her acting debut, desperately rings at his doorbell because her parents have just been murdered and the killers are still in the building. Leon reluctantly lets her in and the two form an unusual and controversial bond with each other.
After allowing Mathilda to stay the night at his place, Leon orders her to leave, but she refuses. She wants to be a hit man like Leon to get revenge for her family’s death, specifically her younger brother, the only one she really liked. Mathilda thus becomes Leon’s protégé as he teaches the young girl the tricks of the trade, even going so far as to let her shoot someone with a paintball loaded sniper rifle. As she continues to learn from Leon she catches up to Stansfield, the corrupt DEA agent who orchestrated her brother’s murder, who is played by Gary Oldman in an extraordinary performance.
What sets The Professional apart from other action films is the storytelling. This isn’t a standard shoot ’em up. There are quiet moments in between the well done action sequences that gives the story a great deal of substance and drama. You begin to feel for Leon, who is obviously an immigrant who has no education, can’t read, and only knows how to kill. He wants to be a good man and sees in Mathilda his chance to do that. Mathilda is a wandering soul, even at 12 years old, who has never been loved and she sees in Leon a father figure, she even calls him her lover. It is a controversial relationship, sort of like a forbidden love, but when Mathilda tells Leon that she’s in love with him, his reaction is one of shock (and quite humorous, no spoilers). It is clear that Leon and Mathilda love each other, but it isn’t romantic, even if through the eyes of a 12 year old it is. Gary Oldman’s performance alone is worth the watch as well.
Overall, this is a stylish, thought provoking, slow burn thriller that is always interesting even in the quiet moments. It gets an A from me.