Blu-ray Reviews: ‘Leon: The Professional’ And ‘The Fifth Element’

Collectible Editions Showcase 4K Restorations, Dolby Atmos® Audio Upgrades & Feature a Limited Edition Acrylic “Clear Case” with 24-Page Behind-the-Scenes Booklets! Part of Sony’s Supreme Cinema series.

In 1994, with “Leon: The Professional,” writer-director Luc Besson scored an international hit with a potentially dicey premise: professional hitman Leon (Jean Reno) takes in Mathilda, a young girl (Natalie Portman, delivering a star-making performance in her first movie role) whose family has been murdered by a ruthless drug kingpin (Gary Oldman, hoovering some major scenery), and teaches her the tricks of his morally dubious trade. Along the way, Mathilda develops a sexual attraction to her much, much older teacher. But Besson skirts the inherent transgressiveness of this material at every turn, turning it into a frequently compelling, though cartoonish and surprisingly mawkish, action thriller that coasts by on Besson’s style (characterized by lots of center-framed widescreen shots) and the chemistry of its leads. Unfortunately, Besson gets too bogged down in fleshing out the film’s fundamentally phony central relationship. Leon and Mathilda are pure fantasy, but Besson doesn’t seem to realize it.

Reno is compellingly sad-eyed in the role of Leon, but the character is little more than a collection of tics intended to signify childlike innocence (a fondness for milk, houseplants, and Gene Kelly; his insistence on being called a “cleaner”). This is meant to provide a striking contrast to his brutal line of work, but it mostly just feels like a cop-out. Mathilda, on the other hand, is an adult in a child’s body—sexual, ruthless, unfazed by violence. (Besson even flips the roles of teacher and student in a few scenes where Mathilda teaches Leon how to read.) Leon and Mathilda are, in other words, the stuff of cinephiliac fantasy. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that Besson spends so much time building the relationship that it’s clear he wants us to take them seriously when they are so obviously not. But Besson makes up for it with a series of kinetic setpieces—stylistically halfway between Hong Kong and Hollywood—that demonstrate his elegant staging and keen sense of timing. Ultimately, Besson’s action chops rescue “Leon” from Besson’s more maudlin and cartoonish tendencies.

LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL Bonus Features Include (for both skus):
§ 4K Restoration & Dolby Atmos® Audio (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible)*
§ Both the theatrical and extended versions of the film (both remastered in 4K & with Dolby Atmos)
§ Featurettes:
o “Cast and Crew Look Back”
o “Jean Reno: The Road to Léon”
o “Natalie Portman: Starting Young”
§ Original Theatrical Trailer

In his next film, “The Fifth Element,” Besson dialed down the mawkishness while ramping up the cartoonishness, creating a gaudy, vinyl-clad vision of the future so synthetic it seems to have emerged directly out of an Aqua video. From Chris Tucker’s shoulder-baring, cheetah-print onesie to Gary Oldman’s half-plastic, half-wig hairpiece to Milla Jovovich’s iconic orange hair and white strappy bodysuit, “The Fifth Element”’s aesthetic is so defined by its outlandish costuming that Jean-Paul Gaultier, the haute couture fashion designer who provides the film’s wardrobe, practically deserves a co-director credit. Everything is so plastic and phony-looking here, it seems as if organic matter has been banished to the furthest reaches of the universe.

Unfortunately, “The Fifth Element” is surprisingly convoluted for a movie whose plot basically boils down to a bunch of people searching for a MacGuffin (in this case, a bunch of mystical stones). Where “Leon” got bogged down in its central relationship, this one becomes similarly mired in its pointlessly overstuffed storytelling. But once again, the actors and Besson’s style conspire to save the day. Bruce Willis does his usual put-upon schtick; Milla Jovovich gives a surprisingly funny turn (even if her character is at times insultingly infantilized); and Gary Oldman once again overacts wildly, though this time around he is actually outdone by Chris Tucker, whose ludicrously over-the-top performance catapults the film into the realm of pure camp. As in “Leon,” Besson favors widescreen compositions that place the actors in closeup at the center of the frame. Here, in fact, he doubles down on that style, turning practically every shot into a symmetrical tableau of garish colors and goofy faces. And while the setpieces here lack the relative elegance of “Leon,” a shootout scored to a blue alien diva singing an aria shows Besson in fine form..

THE FIFTH ELEMENT Bonus Features Include (for both skus):
§ 4K Restoration & Dolby Atmos® Audio (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible)*
§ Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes Available on Blu-ray for the First Time:
o “The Visual Element”
o “The Digital Element”
o “The Star Element”
o “The Alien Element”
o “The Fashion Element”
o “The Diva”
o “Imagining The Fifth Element”
o “The Elements of Style”

While many consider “Leon” Besson’s best film, “The Fifth Element”’s saucy approach to “Star Wars”-ian sci-fi is, for my money, more enjoyable—a high-camp should-be cult classic that compiles and exaggerates some of the late nineties’ most absurd excesses into one wild, overstuffed package.

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