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Leon: The Professional (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Not too far back, Brian White covered the 20th anniversary release of director Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray.  Because he likes me/feels bad for me/wanted to be generous/something, we agreed to split the Besson 4K Ultra-HD Blu-rays coming out in July (In preparation for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets nonetheless). The other, his sorta underground classic 1990s hitman drama/action/thriller, Leon: The Professional. This one, like Fifth Element, you’ll remember was released on Blu-ray last year remastered in 4K. Well, now we TRULY get to see what that is all about. Unlike The Fifth Element, you’ll ONLY be able to purchase this one at Best Buy starting on July 11th for the time being. With this release you get both cuts of the film (Theatrical and Director’s Extended Cut). Here’s hoping the go the full mile and we see La Femme Nikita on 4K Ultra-HD soon!

Film 

Mathilda is only 12 years old, but is already familiar with the dark side of life: her abusive father stores drugs for corrupt police officers, and her mother neglects her. Léon, who lives down the hall, tends to his houseplants and works as a hired hitman for mobster Tony. When her family is murdered by crooked DEA agent Stansfield, Mathilda joins forces with a reluctant Léon to learn his deadly trade and avenge her family’s deaths.

Growing up, I knew this movie simply as The Professional (And with a shorter, American cut of the film). Outside of America, everyone knew it as Leon. Then through some sort of global compromise, it mushed together as Leon: The Professional.  The film was well reviewed and made a decent take at the box office. However, I’m probably not alone in theorizing that most people wound up discovering the film on home video. Luc Besson’s film is really one of those more indie 90s movies that the video rat era didn’t go to the theater to see, but rented it and then recommended and passed it and the word around rapidly back in the day.

What this movie also may be known for is putting Natalie Portman on the map. Her performance here was a revelation. She proved to be wise beyond her years. I’ll even go so far as to say its one of the best child performances ever captured on celluloid. Portman also has a tremendous chemistry with her co-star Jean Reno. Its a shame that the two haven’t ever reunited for a film since this one. Though, there is always still time for something like that to occur. Natalie’s impressive performance is a crowning achievement and you’ll never believe the range and just utter genuine-ness of the character. One of the obvious, but still integral moments to the part is the famous peep-hole scene where she has to pass her dead, shot up father on the floor of the entryway to their apartment as she acts like it isn’t a thing and hopes like hell Reno’s Leon answers the door like thins are normal.

Reno’s Leon, who was built off his memorable, scene stealing performance in Besson’s previous film, La Femme Nikita. This is of the same element, but a bit deeper, more human, less cartoonish character.  My first ever run in with Reno was in Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible to which around the same time after that I ended up seeing this for the first time. Reno’s an incredibly talented actor and he did get to see his fair share of summer Blockbusters (The aforementioned along with Godzilla and Ronin to name some), but I wish he would have appeared more across the board in American films.

Luc Besson brings some terrific dramatic, action and suspense prowess to the film. There are scenes that colorfully thrill the hell out of you and deliver unique action choreography to well thought out shootouts that don’t play paint by numbers. Its unafraid to be ugly and violent, not just for impact, but also look lifelike to punch you in the gut (In just one quick sequence Gary Oldman blasts down an unexpecting family with a shotgun mercilessly). He also gets you on the tips of your toes and biting your nails in suspense, hoping the worst doesn’t happen. This actually is a combination of Besson’s craft and Oldman’s off the hook wild card character that helps with his over the top performance that actually feels right at place and not out of the ordinary. Then, the aforementioned drama with most of it being great moments with Portman and Reno just sharing banter and learning one another in an odd father/daughter dynamic.

Leon: The Professional is both a terrific drama and hitman thriller.  The film showcases Luc Besson growing from his previous film to this one, getting bigger and better. As a director he expands his craft, harnessing and bettering what he did well before while also exploring new territory. As mentioned, the film has an absolutely game cast and a breakout performance by Natalie Portman. Not only is this a cool little film that people should have seen back in the day, its also one of the very best films of the entire decade.

Video 

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail:  Sony has done quite an amazing job here in its 4K restoration of Luc Besson’s film. You’ll be in awe of how crisp and sharp the film looks. It retains a good level of grain that is consistent throughout, giving its detail a true, genuine touch. And details are astounding. From the decaying, aged walls and floors of the apartment building to the thread frays, textures and patterns of the clothing worn by the characters, you’ll be impressed with just how much you are able to see. The Professional is absolutely a professionally done 4K Ultra-HD release of a catalog titles. This is the kind of standard that we can only beg, plead and hope for every studio to with their vintage catalog titles.  Top notch!

Depth:  Spacing is very well displayed in this image. Interiors looking up the stairwell and such look quite impressive and pushed by in relation to foreground from background. The image is very confident, with smooth, natural/cinematic movements and clean camera tracking.

Black Levels:  Blacks are deep and natural, while retaining its texture and detail in hair, clothing and surfaces. There was one moment in the shadows early on where Leon is holding a knife to a fat guys’ throat and you can make out things behind them in a dark, blackened closet. Its really quite revelatory.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are very strong here, moreso in a natural sense. Yellows, reds and blues really come on strong, but not in a vivid sense. Greens have a good, solid palette with many rich tones. HDR really pops during the end sequences where the swat have red lights and lasers around. A rip roaring explosion really boasts and pops with a great big orange fire that lifts right off the screen.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural with just a hair of warmth to them and keep the same look from start to finish. Facial details are strong, given you get dirt, sweat, dried or wet blood, stubble, freckles, make-up, lip texture, blemishes, bruising and more that look clear to the touch.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos (English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Dynamics:  Leon sees a big modern boost in its upgrade to a Dolby Atmos track. What’s great is that none of this feels forced or artificial. This mix feels right at home like it was always performing at this level. Effects noises sound true to the era and not repurposed or too modern. There is a nice, free, loose vibe between those effects, the vocals and the score. Nobody steps on each others’ toes in what is a a very balanced mix. Whether it be some of the quieter moments in the mix or a big booming shootout with a rocket explosion being involved, this movie’s Atmos sound really thrills you in your seat.

Height: Bullets wiz overhead during shootouts, echo’ing from shouting and at one point a sprinkler system really flushes out the overhead speakers.

Low Frequency Extension:  Gun blasts, be it pistols, machine guns or a shotgun bolster a lot of the subwoofer. Kicking and crashing pump it as well as some deep scoring hits and rumbles.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This has been well realized with a clean sense of movement, placement and pinpointing of the action in the film. Environments carry little nicks and knacks from the little corners on the sides and rear.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are very crisp, clear, perfectly set volume-wise in terms of character placement and naturally captures most every bit of diction emanating from an actor’s mouth.

Extras 

Leon: The Professional comes with the Blu-ray edition of the film and an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The bonus features are found on the Blu-ray disc, which are the exact same as the previous releases of the film.

Theatrical Version & Extended Director’s Cut

Moments 

  • Leon (4K, 10:46)
  • Cleaning (4K, 9:39)
  • Stansfield (4K, 10:46) 
  • Mathilda (4K, 9:20)

Blu-ray Disc

10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back (SD, 25:10)

Jean Reno: The Road To Leon (SD, 12:25)

Natalie Portman: Starting Young (SD, 13:49) 

Fact Track – Extended Version 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:25)

Summary 

Luc Besson showcases one of his finest set of hours in Leon: The Professional. A film that holds up remarkably well, and is one of the best films of the 1990s. It makes an astounding leap to 4K Ultra-HD with a mesmerizing video transfer accompanied by a pretty dynamite audio track. Revisiting it on this new format was like seeing it for the first time again. This release is currently a Best Buy exclusive, so you’ll have to head on over to their site (or store…you know what? Get off your butt and go in the store!) to own it. But, own it you must as its one of the very best catalog titles we have seen on the format.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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