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The Professional -- also known as Léon or Leon: The Professional -- is a 1994 French film directed by Luc Besson which stars Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman in her first major role and Danny Aiello. It was inspired by Reno's one-shot role as Victor the Cleaner in 1990's La Femme Nikita, which became so popular that Besson decided to make a whole movie about him though the two films are otherwise related.
Léon Montana (Reno) is a quiet, skilled assassin whose next-door neighbors were just gunned down by drug runners; the only survivor of the massacre is 12-year-old Mathilda Lando (Portman), who begs Léon to save her from the crooked DEA agents who murdered her family. Léon reluctantly takes Mathilda under his wing and, at her insistence, teaches her in the ways of his trade. Mathilda is intent on avenging her family by going after the men responsible for their murder -- and Léon is intent on keeping Mathilda safe at all costs.
This film is not to be confused with The Professionals (a British TV series) or Le Professionnel (another French film with Jean-Paul Belmondo as its star).
The Professional contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Mathilda's parents fall under this trope, which is likely why she doesn't care when she finds out they're dead.
- Actor Allusion: Leon refers to his occupation as "cleaner" which is a reference to his previous role in Luc Besson's previous film Nikita, where Jean Reno plays a crime scene cleaner/hitman.
- Adorkable: Léon
- Adorably Precocious Child: Mathilda is implied to have raised her little brother as if she were a parent.
Mathilda: I was more of a mother to him than that goddamn pig ever was!
- Affably Evil: Tony comes across as a nice guy and even throws children's birthday parties in his lair -- but he also orders several dozen people murdered over the short period of time in which the film takes place.
- Air Vent Passageway: This trope is subverted: Léon shoots and hacks out the hotel's ventilator fan so Mathilda can slide down to ground level, but there's not enough room for him.
- All of Them:
Stansfield: "Bring me everyone"
- All There in the Script: According to the early draft of the film, the full name of the titular character is Leon Montana
- Ambiguous Disorder: It's strongly hinted that Leon is autistic. He has phenomenal skills in one area, astounding social ineptitude and some child-like traits.
- Anyone Can Die: Some of the main cast and minor characters suffer this fate except Mathilda and Tony.
- Artistic License Geography: At the end of the film, Mathilda arrives at Spencer School, which according to the headmistress' telephone conversation with her, the school is shown to overlook the Hudson River and Manhattan -- but Wildwood is an oceanfront community near the tip of Cape May, over 150 miles away from New York City (These scenes were filmed at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken).
- Asshole Victim: Mathilda's parents and half-sister fall under this trope.
- Ax Crazy: While ostensibly the leader of the corrupt DEA agents and cops, Stansfield is so psychotic and unhinged, his second-in-command Malky has to take charge when he becomes too wrapped up in slaughter or drugs or both.
- Badass and Child Duo: Leon and Mathilda
- Badass Creed: "No women, no kids". Also used as a significant Pre-Mortem One-Liner.
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Most of the cops in the film are either violent, corrupt psychos like Stansfield and his crew (except Malky) or otherwise pretty useless such as the NYPD.
- The Bad Guys Are Cops: Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA and local New York law enforcement agencies, but also murder an entire family (save one little girl) of a man holding drugs for them and don't seem unfamiliar with hiring out professional killers from the Mafia or their ties to other criminal gangs such as the Triads for that matter.
- Bare Your Midriff: Mathilda likes to do this.
- Batman Cold Open: The opening scene shows Leon killing a gang of mobsters in mere minutes. The entire scene's purpose is to show how badass Leon can be, and does not affect the rest of the film.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Leon is mortally wounded but he succeeds in using a grenade to kill him and Stansfield.
- Big Bad: Norman Stansfield's murder of Mathilda Lando's family at the start of the film and seeking revenge on him is what drove her to join Leon Montana.
- Big Word Shout: "EVVVVVV-EREEEY-OOOOONE"
- Bittersweet Ending: Léon dies, but Mathilda gets her revenge -- and "Léon's" roots can grow, now.
- Black and Gray Morality: The protagonists are a hitman and a young girl interested in killing people, while the antagonist is a psychotic, drug addicted DEA agent.
- Bob Haircut: Mathilda
- Bodyguard Crush: Mathilda has one of these for Léon, especially in the Extended Cut.
- Brief Accent Imitation: Stansfield borrows Luc Besson's out-of-universe manner of saying "bingo". He also imitates a German accent when he chants "I love Mozart" to Mathilda's father.
- Broken Bird: Mathilda is an orphan with an abusive childhood whose entire family was wiped out. She's not in a very good place mentally.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Stansfield is rather eccentric, to say the least: he discusses classical music during hits, is careless about where he points his gun, and frequently switches from absolute calm to screaming rage and back.
- Camping a Crapper: Mathilda tries to ambush Stansfield in the restroom, but Stansfield is hiding behind the door instead of sitting in one of the booths.
- Career Killers: Léon is a subversion of the hitman archetype.
- Cassandra Truth: This trope is inverted. The headmistress of the orphanage doesn't believe Mathilda's story about her parents being killed in a car crash, but does believe the story about living with a hitman and being chased by corrupt DEA agents.
- Ceiling Cling: Used to great effect by Leon.
- Celibate Hero: Léon hasn't had a girlfriend since his first love was murdered.
- Chalk Outline: Once Mathilda returns to her old apartment, she sees one of her brother on the ground. She's disturbed and avoids stepping on it.
- Chekhov's Gun: The "Ring Trick" sets up the very end of the film. The American theatrical cut doesn't feature the set-up, but it's not necessary.
- Chekhov's Skill: Léon's seen doing crunches/sit-ups in early scenes of the film, and he tries to teach Mathilda how to do them while training her. These exercises allow him to hang from the ceiling unseen and ambush Stansfeld's men during the climatic showdown.
- Children Are Innocent:
- Mathilda curses a lot, smokes and has a disturbingly sexual mind for someone as young as she is, but despite all the outward appearance, she is just an innocent kid, especially when compared to Stansfield.
- This trope is used to differentiate the two killers. Leon refuses to kill women or children, while Stansfield has no problem gunning down a four-year old.
- Coming of Age Story: A very dark version. In the beginning of the film, Mathilda is a bratty little girl who fights with her family and watches cartoons all day. Then she decides to dedicate her life to murder and revenge. By the end of the film, she's matured and vowed to "grow roots." The European cut of the film makes more of an issue of her budding sexuality than the American cut, though it also has Mathilda participating in Leon's assassinations, making her ultimate maturity more questionable.
- Companion Cube: The plant is Léon's "best friend".
- Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. Mathilda's little brother breaks cover from his hiding place upon the distraction of his dad killing one of Stansfield's men. Startled, Willi Blood starts spraying through the wall with a Kimmel AP-9 and manages to hit him, while also endangering all of Stansfield's other men. Later, when the police try to storm Leon's and Mathilda's hideout, the bullets go through the wall, which makes the situation rather sticky for those inside.
- Consummate Professional: Leon is proficient with everything from his bare hands to explosives, doesn't drink alcohol, doesn't leave witnesses or evidence, lives off the grid, doesn't form emotional attachments and, aside from occasional trips to the cinema and tending to his plant, seems to have no life at all outside of professional killing.
- Cool, but Inefficient: The paintball rounds Léon uses in the "Sniper Rifle Erector Set" to train Mathilda. These rounds are used for close-quarters training and lack the velocity to hit a target at the distance the politician was implied to be from them. In addition, assembling/breaking down a scoped rifle on-location does not happen. Any time a firearm is modified (changing a bolt/barrel, attaching a suppressor, etc.), its accuracy is greatly affected. This is why once a rifle is "sighted in," it stays in that configuration - otherwise, the weapon's sighting must be zeroed out again.
- Cool Shades: Léon's trademark killing ensemble includes a pair of vintage 1990's round sunglasses.
- Corruption of a Minor: Leon befriends Mathilda, who demands that he teach her how to kill. In the American theatrical version, he gives her some lessons, but she never participates in an actual murder. In the overseas version (titled Version Integrale in French otherwise known as the Extended Cut), she helps kill at least a dozen people, making her instant rehabilitation at the end a little dubious.
- Crapsack World: New York City in the 1990s is not a happy place and keep in mind this was before Rudy Guiliani's efforts to curb the crime rate.
- Creator Cameo: Luc Besson appears as Mr. Ruben, a violent and insane apartment dweller with a machine gun.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Mathilda tells Leon that she fell off a bike, more than once ostensibly to hide her constant abuse from her father and step-sister. She seems to figure nevertheless that he knows the truth of her abusive father.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Mr. Ruben shouts a ton of obscenities towards Leon and Mathilda while performing the grenade hand trick.
- Dangerously Genre Savvy: Stansfield knows the confrontation with Léon is going to be a difficult one; he tells the assault team to be careful while staying out of the shooting. Once the team is beaten -- as he expects -- he sends in backup in full force and is still prepared to counter the quiet exit Léon attempts.
- Dead Little Brother: Mathilda doesn't give a damn about the rest of her family -- but the bastards who killed her little brother must die.
- Deadly Bath: Mathilda's stepmother met her end in a bathtub via Stansfield's shotgun.
- Deadly Delivery: Mathilda pretends to be delivering takeaway to get her arsenal of weapons past the metal detector into DEA headquarters. Stansfield isn't fooled however, and speculates (ostensibly talking about the takeaway meal) which organised crime group might have sent this child assassin after him. "Chinese? Thai, maybe? Let me guess...Italian food." Mathilda informs him it's because of the death of his little brother.
- Defiant to the End: Leon pulls one to Stansfield after his death.
- Delivery Guy Infiltration: Mathilda, bent on revenge, walks into a DEA building as a 12-year-old food delivery person with a bag of guns. She gets past security, at least.
- Determinator: Léon is absolutely implacable when he gets his mind on something.Even after getting shot several times by a SWAT team and getting nearly blown up, he manages to escape by sheer determination. If it weren't for Stansfield shooting him in the back, he would have escaped
- Dirty Cop: They don't make 'em any dirtier than Stansfield. Not only is he involved in drug running but he will kill anyone who gets in his way.
- Distracted by the Sexy: A uniformed policeman misses Mathilda entering a crime scene because he's flirting with a woman from the building.
- Dissonant Serenity: Stansfield when he's killing Mathilda's family while cheerfully humming along to classical German music in his headphones.
- Distressed Domina: Sort of lampshaded here since as pointed out elsewhere, Mathilda doesn't actually do much action-wise despite all the film's shots of her holding and brandishing a gun. To be fair about it she does manage to elude Stansfield at the start and infiltrates his compound, but she's subdued, captured and in trouble at the hands of the Big Bad until Leon comes to the rescue.
- Double Speak: Leon refers to himself as a "cleaner". Mathilda sees right through his words and asks him to teach her to "clean" also.
- The Dragon: Malky. Somewhat uncharacteristic to what this position usually entails to most examples of this trope. Malky is often forced to take charge as the leader and has to babysit Stansfield whenever things go wrong.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Léon wears the uniform of a SWAT officer killed during the raid on his apartment in order to escape through the cordon of police.
- Dying Moment of Awesome: Léon's death scene counts -- especially since he takes Stansfield with him.
- Dysfunctional Family: Everything about the Landos. And unlike most examples of this trope, It is not Played for Laughs at all.
- Empty Elevator: To quote the leader of the drug-dealing mafiosos, "Somebody's coming up. Somebody's serious".
- Establishing Character Moment:
- The first scenes show Leon as a badass hitman with almost supernatural skills due to years of training. He spends the rest of his day as mundanely as possible—going to the store to buy milk, going to his apartment, watering his plants, cleaning his guns and doing exercises.
- Norman Stansfield gets two establishing moments to show just how psychotic and messed up he can be: first, he's introduced standing in the background, listening to classical music on his headphones and completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Then, when Malky informs him of a problem (a drug holder apparently cut some of the dope he was supposed to be keeping safe), he removes the headphones, and sniffs the holder for a few seconds, before declaring him innocent. Stansfield's next scene shows him leading a gang of thugs towards the holder's apartment: he takes a moment to down a pill and muse on how much he likes "these calm little moments before the storm," before charging into the apartment with a shotgun, killing the holder's wife, the holder's teenage daughter, then finally cornering the holder himself... so he can chat about classical music while the rest of his gang search the apartment for drugs.
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- One of Stanfield's men reacts with horror when Mathilda's brother ends up getting accidentally killed by Blood; he's heard shouting angrily at Blood later in the scene. Killing the rest of the family apparently fell within his standards.
- Tony is outraged at the idea of hiring a twelve year old girl to serve as an assassin
- Evilly Affable: Stansfield cracks jokes and discusses classical music while murdering entire families.
- Fat Bastard: Mathilda's father and half-sister are violent, abusive and rather perverted.
- Famous Last Words
Leon: "This is from Mathilda."
- Faux Action Girl: Mathilda turns out to be this, but only because Stansfield stops her before she gets a chance to pull a weapon.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Léon is this -- at least, according to Mathilda:
Mathilda: "What's your name?"
Mathilda: "Follow the blue car."
- Foot Popping: This trope is spoofed. When Léon rescues Mathilda from the police station, she throws herself into his arms, and the camera cuts to a shot of their feet -- Mathilda's are hanging a foot above the ground.
- Friend or Foe: Stansfield's gang nearly shoot one another on several occasions during the massacre, and at least one SWAT trooper is killed this way.
- Guns Akimbo
- Gun Kata: A shotgun-toting Stansfield moves to the Ludwig Van in his head while massacring Mathilda's family.
- Gun Porn
- He Knows Too Much: The night after Léon takes Mathilda into his home, he's staring at the ceiling while she's asleep -- before he leaps up, attaches a silencer to his pistol, and places the gun against Mathilda's head. Despite knowing the burden she'll be on him, Léon can't pull the trigger -- and depending on the interpretation, this might have been an aborted Mercy Kill instead.
- How Many All of Them
- Hypocritical Humor:
Léon: "Stay away from him, he looks like a weirdo.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Stansfield is pretty careless about where he points his gun.
- IKEA Weaponry: Léon's paintball sniper rifle counts.
- Instant Marksman, Just Squeeze Trigger: This trope is played straight.
- Inverse Ninja Law: In the final act, Léon takes on a heavily-armed SWAT unit by himself -- and gets away. Léon is only stopped when Stansfield sneaks up on him from behind.
- Jumped At the Call: Mathilda shows particular zeal for avenging her innocent brother.
- Jurisdiction Friction: The NYPD is not happy about the slaying of an entire family with no explanation (other than the DEA saying they were doing their job).
- Knight Templar Big Sister: Mathilda
- Large Ham: This is one of Gary Oldman's hammiest performances ,(and it stands in sharp contrast with Jean Reno's performance).
- Laser Sight: Visible laser sights hunt for Leon and Mathilda in their apartment; they become visible due to the smoke and dust which has accumulated in the room.
- Light Is Good: A terrified Mathilda is knocking on Léon's door, watched by a suspicious member of Stansfield's gang. Nothing happens, though we know Léon is on the other side of the door, debating whether to involve himself in the matter. As Stansfield's goon becomes more suspicious, light shines on Mathilda's face from the opening door and we see her look of relief. This trope is inverted when a flash of light is used to indicate Stansfield shooting Leon In the Back.
- Little Miss Badass: Mathilda single-handedly infiltrates a busy federal bureau with a bag full of weapons. She ends up being a Faux Action Girl, though, when she hesitates to kill Stansfield and gets herself captured.
- Lolicon: This is an inverted trope. The twelve-year old Mathilda has a girlhood crush on the much older Léon, who repeatedly tells her it won't happen. A deleted scene shows Léon turning down Mathilda's offer of taking her virginity, though she insists they share the bed from then on (instead of Leon sleeping in the chair). Luc Besson cut the scene after preview audiences laughed nervously at it (thus killing the mood), but in the International Cut, the scene was restored.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender
Léon: No women, no kids. That's the rules.
- More Dakka: After Léon wipes out their entry team, the SWAT team brings up a tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun -- then shoves a rifle grenade into the muzzle and blasts it through the door into Léon's apartment.
- My Nayme Is: One of the main characters' is called "Mathilda" spelled with an H as opposed to just "Matilda".
- Noodle Incident: Léon's overseas affair somehow figures into his current role. This is explained in the International Cut as his girlfriend's death. Due to Léon's family being less respectable than her's, her father killed her when she ignored his request to end the affair. Léon killed the father in revenge, then fled to America to join his father, who was already working for Tony.
- No Peripheral Vision: Léon hides above the doorway as the SWAT team enters his apartment. To be fair, they are wearing gas masks, which restrict vision quite a bit.
- Pineapple Surprise: This is how Léon kills Stansfield and himself.
- Oh Crap: "This is from Mathilda."
- This also happens a few minutes earlier, during Léon's battle with the SWAT team:
Do you see him?
- Léon gets shot in the shoulder by an assault rifle while hanging upside down. After dropping one of his guns and grimacing, he shoots the SWAT guy and manages to pull himself back up above the door.
- Also happens to Stansfield early on in the film when he gets clipped in the shoulder.
- Our Presidents Are Different: A not-so-subtle caricature of a jogging Bill Clinton serves as Mathilda's sniper training.
- Papa Wolf: Léon is one for Mathilda.
- Pet the Dog: Léon -- still very much having the aura of a ruthless killer at this point -- and the piggy scene counts as this.
- Pop Cultural Osmosis Failure: In an imitation game, Léon fails to recognize Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin, while Mathilda confuses John Wayne with Clint Eastwood.
- Punch Clock Villain: Leon is a merciless assassin while on the clock. On his own time, he's almost childishly innocent.The Reveal: Stansfield and his men appear to be just another drug gang; when they hear police sirens approaching after the massacre, Stansfield's Number Two calmly says they've got to go, but Stansfield tells one of his mooks to stay behind.
Willi: "What do you want me to tell them?"
- Professional Killer: In case if the title didn't clue you in about the movie.
- Role Called: The title refers to one of the main characters and the occupation of an assassin.
- Russian Roulette: Mathilda does this to show she's ready to become a killer. Léon knocks her hand away at the last second, which is just as well because the revolver goes off.
- Self-Stitching: Léon fixes himself up in the shower after suffering an off-camera injury during a hit.
- Senseless Violins: Léon is shown carrying an instrument case when moving house, though he never removes a weapon from it.
- Léon signs into a hotel registry under the name "MacGuffin".
- The 1991 film Thelma and Louise and Bonnie and Clyde are mentioned by Mathilda when she convinces Leon to train her as an assassin.
- Singin' in the Rain is seen and discussed multiple times in the movie.
- Spiritual Successor: To La Femme Nikita
- Spit Take: Of milk. Virtually a Running Gag.
- Staged Shooting: A paintball round is used against a jogger. In the international version, it seems the same thing is happening again when Mathilda shoots a mark and leaves only a red splatter, but Léon casually kills the mark after pointing out to Mathilda what she did wrong.
- Sir Swears-A-Lot:
- From what little we seem of them, Mathilda's father and half-sister have pretty filthy mouths.
- Norman Stansfield, with even his last word being "Shit".
- Mathilda herself is no stranger to swearing and spouts out bad words whenever she is angry or sad. This is even lampshaded by Leon after seeing her hang out with a stranger.
- Taking You with Me: "This is from Mathilda".
- Teach Me How to Fight: Mathilda trades reading lessons for training in the assassin's arts. The two different versions of the film differ on how much training she actually receives.
- The Teetotaler: Leon opts for milk, though on one occasion he does subvert it by drinking champagne to celebrate Mathilda's first hit as a hitwoman.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Stansfield sends two hundred SWAT officers with an RPG -- while regular cops establish a perimeter -- after one man and and a twelve-year-old girl in a cramped apartment building.
Stansfield: I said take the guy out, not the whole fucking building!
- There Is Only One Bed: Mathilda insists to Leon that at the very least he should share the bed with her and not sleep in the couch. Initially he is reluctant to have her sleep on the bed but changes his mind. The US cut has them wake up in bed together without explanation.
- There Was a Door: Leon shoots and disables the hotel's ventilator so Mathilda can escape. However he is too big to follow.
- Threw My Bike on the Roof: Just after his interview with two officers, Stansfield comes across a group of kids playing catch with a basketball. He grabs it out of mid-air, comments that "Kids should be in school", then gets into his car and drives off, with the ball.
- Too Dumb to Live: Mathilda's father decides to steal the drugs from the corrupt DEA agents. Even when they point it out and give him a clear deadline to return the drugs, he ignores them and waits passively for them to return and kill everyone.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Leon drinks nothing but milk. To a lesser extent, Mathilda also enjoys the drink.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mathilda is only sad about her four-year-old brother's death, not about the deaths of her abusive father, stepmother and half-sister. Not to mention that she spouts out swear words and smokes drugs. She also expresses a desire to become a professional assassin to avenge him, fires a gun wildly out of a window to convince Leon to teach her how to kill, expresses a desire to use real bullets during a mock assassination session, and at one point freaks out the manager of an apartment she and Leon are staying at by lying that Leon's her lover instead of her father. It's a Justified Trope since Mathilda had an awful family life.
- Training Montage: Mathilda learns gun handling, milk drinking, and chin-ups. She is not happy about the last two.
- Unorthodox Reload: Stansfield reloads his revolver by snapping the cylinder into place with a flick of his arm.
- Villainous Breakdown: Stansfield has a classic one near the end.