Today’s psychological theme is quite simply how love can affect our lives even when we think we don’t want it. It complicates and changes our lives in ways that may often seem fatal, yet the motto of the film is that it is still worth it. It also shows us that sometimes biological families are always the best families to contend with and non-traditional families sometimes are better.
The opening of the film gives you a hint to the primary characters through the hauntingly sweet music. The first thing we hear is Italian where one man says hello to another and asks how he’s doing but we only see their eyes and the glass of milk and hands of one of them, whose name is Leon. It portends the importance of the “anonymity” of a the characters…the assertion of “a hit man type professional…i.e. Italian, unknown, hands are seen to indicate the importance of the skill of “hands on job.”
This is Natalie Portman’s first feature film and she receives top billing with Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Danny Aiello before the Title is presented which is rather amazing for that time.
We see the skill of “ The professional” as he takes out several bad men like a ghost and disappears just as silently. Next we see the legs of this tiny girl who is smoking and speaks to the professional who is arriving home and very innocently says “hi” He turns to her and asks why she hides the cigarette. Again the music is playing sweet little innocent melody to remind us of her character. She very sweetly replies that the building is full of rats and she didn’t want her “old man” to find out. He looks at her closely and there is a bruise on her cheek. He asks her what happened and she replies that she fell off her bike. He disappears behind his door after she tells him not to tell her dad. As he closes his door Gary Oldman walks out of the apartment of the little girl and two other men also appear in the hall while Gary Oldman remains with his back to the two men listening to a headset. One is yelling at the other about heroin being cut to a lower grade, which he denies though the other man explains Gary can smell this stuff out and has a sixth sense about it and the little girl throws her cigarette over the edge and replaces it with a sucker. Next Gary Oldman turns and quietly says he knows he’s not cutting the heroin as he sniffs his head and neck, then whispers something to the man being yelled at who is clearly terrified and tells him to find out who did it by noon the next day. The 2 bad men leave and the father comes out yells at his daughter for being in the hallway and to go do her homework. When she says she’s done it already he slaps her and tells her to go in and help her sister clean the house and stop smoking cigarettes. We then see the professional has watched the whole thing from the other side of his door’s peephole. We see the professional meticulously perform his routines including ironing his clothes, putting his plant out on the window seal for sun, and then sits and turns out the lights.
Our next scene opens up paralleling the household of the little girl’s family: A body obsessed older sister, a mother who dresses like a hooker, the father who yells all the time and everyone seems to be not appreciate of the sullen attitude from the little girl who supposedly watches cartoons every day. A phone call comes in and the headmistress of a private girl’s school explains to the little girl who pretends to be her mother that Mathilde has been absent for 2 weeks and even though her tuition has been paid for a year by the father it would be forfeited after such a long absence without a reasonable explanation. Mathilde tells the woman the little girl is dead. Meanwhile the professional works out relentlessly in his barren apartment where he doesn’t even have sheets on his mattress. The professional walks by the apartment and hears the father yelling inside. He returnes home from watching “singing in the rain” at the local theatre and the song that we hear Gene Kelley singing has the words: “ Why am I feeling when things could look black that nothing could go wrong? This has been a most unusual day, love has made me see things in a different way…” It is the one time we see the Professional smiling and seemingly happy before Mathilde enters his world. We see that morning he finds Mathilde in the hall with a bleeding nose from being beaten again. He gives her a handkerchief to clean her bloody face. She asks him “Is life always this hard or is it just when you’re a kid?” He tells her always and tells her to keep the handkerchief. She brightens up and tells him she is going grocery shopping and will pick milk up for him. The Violin changes from being melancholy sweet to heavy bases as we see the clock in the professional’s apartment reads a few minutes to noon and Gary Oldman and a crew of bad guys arrive in the building. Oldman takes a pill and says “ I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven” Which incidentally he played that year in the film “Immortal Beloved” What we don’t see in the beginning we see during this violent scene that a little boy is hiding under a bed which surprises everyone and the shooting melee begins killing one of the bad men. Gary is angry that his suit is ruined and wants to empty more bullets into the dad who was already dead, but Gary is high on drugs. The professional listens to all this and watches from his peephole when Natalie’s comes home and calmly walks to the professionals door past the open door of her apartment where her father lays dead on the floor. The professional is reluctant as Natalie pleads and cries quietly for him to open his door. The bad men realize the little girl is missing and the man standing guard realizes a gir went into the professional’s apartment. He approaches, but Mathilde starts cartoons in the professional’s apartment and the guy standing guard blows it off as if the little girl lived there. They find the stolen heroin then leave.
He tries to comfort the little girl whose crying not for her father or the woman who wasn’t her mother or her “half-sister,” but her little brother who she says was only 4 and didn’t do anything to anyone he just sat next to her and cuddled. She sees his case of guns and realizes he is a hit man or as he calls himself “a cleaner,” but he doesn’t kill women or kids, and she asks to him how much to hire him which he says is 5000 a head. She offers to work for him to teach her how to do it in exchange for him killing these men who killed her little brother. He says he won’t do it, but says she needs to go to sleep. She tells him he’s been really great with her and it’s not always like that especially since she has no one or anywhere to go.
At one point while she’s asleep he puts together a gun and holds it to her head. The next morning he tells her she has to go and when she asks where he says not my problem. She argues with him that he needs to teach her how to be a cleaner and he is responsible for her life. She says if he doesn’t help her she’ll die that night and she doesn’t want to die. He says she’s a little girl and won’t be able to do it. Then she takes the gun he gave her to go away and she shoes out his window 6 times in different directions and says “how’s that?” Next thing you see them walking with his plant and all their belongings down the street. He stops in the middle of the walk and says “Mathilde don’t you ever do anything like that again or I’ll break your head. You got that I don’t work like that it’s not professional there is rules…”
So opens up the movie we see him teaching her discipline and she teaches him how to read and write and begins to flavor his world with her precocious wit and personality all of this affects his routine. She discusses how much he loves his plant and he says it’s his best friend, and then she tells him that he should be watering and her so she can grow.
He goes to his contact that holds his money and gives him “jobs” his contact is protective of him and worries about his developing a friendship with a woman and how it can be disruptive for his life, especially since he hasn’t done any jobs lately. Then we see that Mathilde is weighing on his mind because she tells him she’s in love with him. He goes out to do his first job since she joined him clearly distracted and bothered. Mathilde returns to the scene of the crime to grab some of her things and finds out that Gary Oldman is a DEA officer, we also see that Leon got shot or hurt on his job. He finally expresses to his contact that Mathilde is supposed to get his money if anything should happen to him.
The climax comes when Mathilde decides to go after Gary Oldman. She is caught by him and then finds out his partner is killed by some “ghost” they find out it is personal and he assumes the little girl is connected. Leon finds out she has gone to do this races to Oldman’s office and takes everyone out until he finds her. She jumps in his arms and they hug. The next morning Oldman visits Leon’s contact and they ambush Mathilde on her way back from the local grocery store but she tips Leon off with the knock that is not correct and Leon starts taking them out one by one. Gary takes the building by storm then with more reinforcements while they hold Mathilde captive until he forces her release.
Then it gets down to the end and Leon tells Mathilde he loves her and tells her to meet him at Tony’s in an hour. They shoot an explosive into the building and Leon dresses as one of the snipers who is carried downstairs through a host of more than 200 snipers. Gary sees him. Gary clears the building and goes back to kill him. Mathilde walks away from the building with the plant. Leon doesn’t see Gary behind him as he thinks he is almost to freedom out of the building you see a blast of light and Leon goes down with very simple piano music denoting the end. Gary thinks he is dead but he has a pin from a grenade and says as he presses the pin into Gary’s hand “ This is from Mathilde”
Aiello’s character Tony tells Mathilde how things are, he holds the money that Leon had and will dole it out to her when she needs it. She wants to be a cleaner he yells at her and she cries when he says he has no jobs for a goddamned 12 year old. He told her to take the 100 dollars and get her little ass back to school and not to come back for a month. He also tells her that he’s hurting too, but there’s no more Leon. She goes back to the private school with the plant and the headmistress tells her she must stop lying after she tells the woman her parents died in a car crash. So she tells her the truth how they were killed by DEA agents due to drugs and a hit man took care of her but he died that morning and if she doesn’t let her stay she’ll be dead by that night. She is allowed to stay and she goes out to the yard, plants the plant, and says, “I think we are going to be okay here Leon”
The sad song at the end sung by Sting is called “The Shape of my Heart” which encapsulates the film well.