Minutia Madness: Leon aka The Professional Edition
By Bret Dorman
(As always, SPOILERS! may apply to the movie in discussion.)Everyone knows what makes a movie good. Blurbs like “compelling”, “powerful”, and “explosive non stop thrill ride that will leave you on the edge of your seat!” are common place on movie posters. In reviews (including my own) people point out how the direction is “great”, how the writing is “awesome”, and how the acting is “wonderful”. Every once in a while you can find a really great essay from a smart film critic (a real one) or film maker that actually explains why a movie is good and helps you as a viewer become a better film watcher.
But what about those small moments that fall in between the cracks? I understand the need to talk about a movie in the broad sense, its the easiest most SPOILER! free way of saying if you liked or didn’t like a movie. I prefer people to talk in specifics, to actually know why something is good or bad. But this goes beyond all that. This is blowing the tiniest detail way out of proportion. This is what makes me a film nerd. This is Minutia Madness!!!
Leon: The Professional
Written and Directed by Luc Besson
As far as Stansfield himself is concerned, Besson and Oldman do some interesting things with the character. There’s the obvious reversal of “goodguy” and “badguy” as Stansfield is a DEA Agent and Leon is a hitman, yet they both behave on opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Sure they are both killers, but Leon is calm and cool about it. He has rules (No women no kids) and doesn’t kill who he doesn’t have to or isn’t paid to (the blonde chick at the beginning). Usually in movies, the main badguy is also calm and cool, having to contain the excitement of his henchmen in intimidating ways. Here however, Stansfield is the unpredictable one, the loose canon who his right hand man, Malky, has to babysit like a child making sure he behaves himself and contains the damage (I.E. moving Stansfield out to the hallway, then back inside the apartment after he shoots at the old woman).
As Stansfield’s men litter the hallways of the apartment, he takes a moment to pop some pills, exhaling with restrained energy. He seems to crazily ramble on about ‘the music’ of the calm before the storm while Malky brushes of the question of “Can you hear it?” like Stansfield is simply nuts. The truth is, there is a music to the madness and Leon can here it, causing him to go to his door and inspect the situation before there is any need or cause to do so. These two titans of action are on a higher level than the rest, something that will be highlighted as they finally confront each other. We’re all familiar with the classical movements of Beethoven, so to exclude his music from this scene makes it all the more shockingly poetic:
After this massacre, Stansfield professes his love of classical music:
The first couple times I saw Leon: The Professional I just dismissed this scene as a crazy guy talking crazy talk to make his character quirky and unique. After a few more viewings though, I started to actually pay attention to what he was saying. Beethoven starts strong, so Stansfield comes through the door blasting away anyone and (almost) everyone, no matter who they are or what threat they pose. But then he stops, presumably so he can ask Mathilda’s father about the drugs. But the truth is, they are going to strip the house and find them anyway. So why does Stansfield keep him alive and give him the chance to ruin Stansfield’s suit, which he doesn’t take lightly? Because “after [Beethoven’s] openings, to be honest, he tends to get a little fucking boring.” THAT’S why he stopped! He was bored. With killing innocent people and ruining Mathilda’s life. Remember how a goodguy can only be as good as his badguy is bad? Well, one way to turn an ice cold killer hitman into a hero is to have his antagonist be a sociopathic classical music lover. Badguys come in all shapes and sizes. From animals to aliens or crazy lunatics to conniving masterminds, there have been numerous cinematic villains. But of ALL those villains doing ALL sorts of bad things, Gary Oldman’s delivery of the line “that’s why I stopped” as Stansfield is without a doubt, my favorite bad guy quote. Once the true weight of what he’s saying coupled with the images you’ve just seen really hits you, it’s both frightening and intriguing. He’s clearly not a normal man, shown by his intolerance for Mickey Mouse Bullshit, disliking of taking a life from someone who doesn’t appreciate it, or his abuse of power to get everyone (EV.ER.Y.ONE!) in the police force to take down one man. But all of these are typical energetic bad guy traits only amplified through Oldman’s bravado. For someone who lives life constantly high and about to blow, it would have to take a lot to make him bored. For that thing to be killing people, well, it doesn’t get more evil than that.
The first time Stansfied actually sees Leon, is when Leon is disguised as a SWAT officer. Similarly to how Leon innately knew something bad was about to happen in his apartment, Stansfield could feel the same. In action movies, there are “Titans” or main characters, secondary or side characters, expendable baddies, and the rest. Most of the time, the Titans of actioners are in direct opposition. The conflict of Leon: The Professional is not between Leon and Stansfield, but between Leon/Mathilda and Mathilda/Stansfield. Because of these characters complicated relationships, it is important to establish the essentials quickly. Obviously, the opening “hit” on The Fat Man says everything we need to know about Leon. Mathilda’s smoking and attire despite her very young age establishes her desire to be seen as mature. Stansfield’s Beethoven mini-monologue showcases not why he’s a madman or intimidating corrupt lawman, but why he’s truly evil. And in a world full of moral ambiguity, that’s quite the accomplishment.Leon: The Professional has tons of tiny moments I gush over. The way Leon makes sure to flash his knife in front of The Fat Man’s eyes as he disappears, the look on Mathilda’s face after she fires a gun out a window, ‘Uncle’ Tony’s slight hesitation after he learns Leon can read, and that crazy shot of Leon just before the rocket hits, you know the one, the ultra close up from just under his upper jaw. For an action movie, it probably has more “romantic” (emotionally speaking, not physically) development between its two main characters than actual action scenes. The first hour and last half hour showcase why Luc Besson is known for his action but the meat of the movie is in the middle, as we actually get to know and care for the characters. And while Gary Oldman’s Stansfield character is used sparingly, he is used with maximum efficiency.
So what do you think? Does Stansfield’s boredom translate to the audience with opposite effect? Or am I crazy for focusing on this minute detail?