Léon: The Professional (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jul 02, 2017
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Léon: The Professional (4K UHD Review)

Director

Luc Besson

Release Date(s)

1994 (July 11, 2017)

Studio(s)

Gaumont/Columbia TriStar (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Review

[Editor’s Note: Sony tells me that this disc is a Best Buy exclusive initially, but it will go into wide release later in 2017. We’ll add the Amazon purchase links when they’re available. In the meantime, clicking on the text below the cover art will take you to the Best Buy order page.]

Léon (Jean Reno) is a simple man. He doesn’t read or write. He’s got few possessions. His only vice is watching Gene Kelly and John Wayne movies. But there’s one thing he does better than anyone else: He’s a cleaner. As in hitman. When it comes to killing, he’s the best hands down. It’s in this capacity that Léon works for Tony (Danny Aiello) in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood.

Tony is one of those guys in the neighborhood who gets things done, you know? You got a problem, you go to Tony. And when Tony’s got a problem, he goes to Léon. As it happens one day, after “cleaning” Tony’s latest problem, Léon meets 12-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman, in her first film appearance). She’s a latch-key kid, living with her white trash family in the apartment down the hall. He’s nice to her, and it makes an impression – nobody is ever nice to Mathilda. While she’s at the store one afternoon, her family is killed by a group of crooked D.E.A. agents led by the psychotic Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda returns while the agents are still there, quickly realizes what’s happening and pretends to be a neighbor, knocking terrified on Léon’s door instead. Against his better judgment, Léon opens the door to his apartment and, in that simple act, saves her life. But before long, he finds that he’s let her into his heart as well. What follows is an unlikely and touching Beauty and the Beast-style love story, albeit a somewhat innocent one and with a lot of bullets. Léon quickly realizes that the one thing Mathilda wants more than anything else is revenge, so he does the only thing he can... he teaches her to clean.

Léon: The Professional is damn close to a perfect film. It’s a spin-off of sorts from director Luc Besson’s previous La Femme Nikita, based on Jean Reno’s character in that film (Victor the Cleaner). Léon plays right into Besson’s strengths as a director and visual stylist – each killing, each action scene unfolds like a poetic dance. It is easily his best film, and it’s the role Reno will always be remembered for. He brings tremendous depth to a character that we end up learning very little about. It’s his nuances as an actor that flesh Léon out – we learn everything we need to from Reno’s simple gestures and facial expressions. Meanwhile, Oldman plays edgy maniacs better than anyone in the business, which is perfect because that’s exactly what the pill-popping Stansfield is. And it’s hard to find words to describe Portman’s performance. She simply steals the show. As if to ice the cake, composer Eric Serra provides the perfect musical score to accompany the visuals. How good is Léon? Just watch the introduction of Stansfield and his men as they appear to do their dirty work, slinking through the frame accompanied by music you’d expect to hear in a jungle film when a tiger is stalking its prey. Brilliant.

Sony remastered Léon: The Professional in 4K from the original film elements in 2015 and re-issued it on Blu-ray then as a Cinema Series edition (see our review here), complete with a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack (one of the early such mixes available on the format). Now, as was the case with Besson’s The Fifth Element (see our review here), Sony has finally released the film in full native 4K (2160p) on Ultra HD. Believe me, the result was well worth the wait. Léon was shot on 35mm photochemical film using anamorphic lenses, with very little in the way of non-practical effects. Sony’s taken their 4K master, given it a restrained HDR color grade, and the result is breathtaking. Crisp fine detail abounds in skin, textured film grain, hair, dirty brick and stone, plaster walls, a curtain of beads, wrought iron, and the fabric of clothing. When Léon emerges from the shadows to deliver his message to the “Fatman,” the blacks surround him like a cloak, yet they never seem crushed at any point in the film. Just look at the way the light glints off the frames of Léon’s glasses and his blade, then reflects back up onto the Fatman’s neck. When Léon returns to his apartment, watch as the light picks up the thick paint texturing on his door as he closes it. That simple play of light over different surfaces, revealing different reflectivity, is really where HDR shines. The film’s colors are accurate and just slightly subdued, as they’ve always been, but the HDR opens them up and gives them a more natural appearance. This is a beautiful, reference-quality transfer, one that allows a great film to look like a film.

In terms of audio, the 4K Ultra HD disc includes the same Dolby Atmos mix (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible) from the Cinema Series Blu-ray. The Atmos is slightly smoother, more lively and immersive than the film’s older mixes on disc, and just a bit more natural sounding, with excellent bass. The use of the height channels is more subtle here, but it does help to give a bit of overhead finish to the soundstage, resulting in a better sense of immersion for the viewer. The overall sound experience is highly atmospheric and very pleasing. Additional audio options on the disc include French and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

As was the case with previous Blu-ray editions, the 4K disc includes both the U.S. theatrical cut and the much-loved International version of this film – you simply select which you wish to see when you start the disc. For the record, the International version (at 133 minutes, or 25 minutes longer than the theatrical cut) is definitely the preferred version to watch. The additions are mostly in the film’s second half, and better develop the bond between Léon and his young protégé. There are no extras to speak of on the 4K disc, but the package also includes the 2015 Blu-ray edition, which adds the following extras (mostly in SD, but anamorphic widescreen):

  • Fact Track (Extended Version) (in subtitle text – runs the length of the film)
  • 10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back (SD – 25:10)
  • Jean Reno: The Road to Léon (SD – 12:25)
  • Natalie Portman: Starting Young (SD – 13:49)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:25)

That’s a good batch of material, but it’s worth noting that the international ad campaign gallery and isolated audio track (featuring Serra’s score) from one of the earlier DVD releases are not included here, so you may wish to keep that disc (if you have it) to retain all the available bonus features. The 4K package does also include the usual Digital HD Copy code on a paper insert.

If you haven’t seen Léon: The Professional yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD release is reference-quality, certainly the best version of this film you can experience at home, and it carries over all of the previous Blu-ray extras too. Buying this film yet again might be a tough sell for those fans who’ve already collected the many previous disc releases, but this is probably the last version you’ll ever need to own. Both the film, and the 4K disc itself, are well worth it.

Film Rating (U.S./International): A/A+

- Bill Hunt

 

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