Film: The Professional

aka: Leon The Professional

No women, no kids. That's the rules."

The Professional — known as Léon in France and many other countries — is a 1994 film directed by Luc Besson which stars Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Natalie Portman in her first major role. It was inspired by Jean Reno's One-Scene Wonder character in Nikita, who became so popular that Besson decided to essentially make a whole movie about him, though the two films are otherwise unrelated.

Leone "Léon" Montana (Reno) is a quiet, skilled assassin whose next-door neighbors were just gunned down by crooked agent Norman Stansfield and his crew; the only survivor of the massacre is 12-year-old Mathilda Lando (Portman), who begs Léon to save her from the corrupt cops 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 Stansfield— 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), The Professionals (an American Western film), Le Professionnel (another French film with Jean-Paul Belmondo as its star), or Golgo 13: The Professional.

The Professional provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Mathilda's parents fall under this trope, which is likely why she doesn't care when she finds out they're dead.
  • Adorkable: Léon
  • 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. Given the sort of lowlifes that would require Léon's cleaning services in the first place, it's likely a case of Grey and Gray Morality.
  • 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.
    Benny: What do you mean "everyone"?
    Stansfield: EVE-RY-ONE!!!
  • Anyone Can Die: Sadistically so. Léon and Stansfield even get killed by the same grenade.
  • Artistic License – Geography: At the end of the film, Mathilda is at the Spenser School, which (according to the headmistress's telephone conversation) is supposed to be in Wildwood, New Jersey. In the final moments before the credits, 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.)
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Stansfield is pretty careless about where he points his gun, especially for a cop. Given that one of his police colleagues calls attention to this when he inadvertently points the gun at him, it's clearly meant to be the latter.
    • Mathilda's father stores his slug gun loaded and poorly concealed in the kitchen, though he at least has the sense to put the safety on.
  • Asshole Victim: Mathilda's parents and older sister fall under this trope.
  • Ax-Crazy: While ostensibly the leader of the corrupt cops, Stansfield is so psychotic, his second-in-command has to take charge whenever he becomes too wrapped up in slaughter, which is often.
  • Badass: Léon
  • Badass and Child Duo
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops
  • Bare Your Midriff: Mathilda likes to do this.
  • Batman Cold Open: The opening scene shows Leon killing a gang of drug dealers in a matter of minutes. The entire scene only exists to show how proficient Leon is, and has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
  • 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 corrupt cop.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Mathilda has one of these for Léon.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Celibate Hero: Léon hasn't had a girlfriend since his first love was murdered in the old country.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: 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".
  • Cool Shades: Léon's trademark killing ensemble includes a pair of vintage 1990s round sunglasses.
  • Crapsack World: New York City in the 1990s is not a happy place.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Mathilda doesn't give a damn about the rest of her family — but the bastards who killed her little brother must die.
  • 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.
  • Dirty Cop: Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A uniformed policeman misses Mathilda entering a crime scene because he's flirting with a woman from the building.
  • Dressing as the Enemy / Fakeout Escape: 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.
  • Empty Elevator
  • 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 angrilly at Blood later in the scene. Killing the rest of the family apparently fell within his standards.
  • Famous Last Words
    Léon: This is from Mathilda.
    Stansfield: Shit...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Stansfield cracks jokes and discusses classical music while murdering entire families.
  • First Episode Spoiler: The villains are cops.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Léon is this—at least, according to Mathilda:
    Mathilda: What's your name?
    Léon: Léon.
    Mathilda: Cute name.
    (spit take)
  • Follow That Car
    Mathilda: Follow the blue car.
    Cab Driver: I suppose you want me to blast the music and go through the red lights?
    Mathilda: No, I want you to drive slowly, take the hundred bucks and shut the fuck up, okay?
  • 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 Porn
  • Gun Stripping: Leon shows Mathilda how to disassemble a gun.
  • The Hero Dies: Léon himself at the end.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Stansfield loses his cool in nearly every scene he's in, often screaming at the top of his lungs to his underlings and even his superiors.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Leon has an aura of childish wholesomeness to him. He lives a simple life, takes care of a pet plant, only drinks milk, and watches films with childish wonder. When called upon to do an act of good, he ultimately rises to it.
  • Hyper Competent Sidekick: Malky to Stansfield, to the point he seems the actual leader of the corrupt cops.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Léon: Stay away from him, he looks like a weirdo.
  • IKEA Weaponry: Léon's sniper rifle counts.
  • Impairment Shot: During the climax, when Leon is shot from behind, the camera sinks down to the ground as seen with his own eyes.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Mathilda's brother.
  • Insult to Rocks: Mathilda claims she was more of a mother to her little brother than her pig of step-mother was.
    Leon: Don' talk like that about pigs. They're usually much nicer than people.
  • 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: Stansfield becomes this in his quest to hunt Léon down.
  • Knight Templar Little Sister: Mathilda.
  • Kubrick Stare: Stansfield is fond of these. He gives a particularly menacing one just before leaving Mathilda's apartment at the start of the movie.
  • Large Ham: This is one of Gary Oldman's hammiest performances (which is saying a lot).
  • Laser Sight: Visible laser sights hunt for Léon 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.
    • Subverted when a flash of light is used to indicate Stansfield shooting Léon in the back.
  • Little Miss Badass: Mathilda single-handedly infiltrates a busy federal bureau with a bag full of weapons. She ends up failing, 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 Léon 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.
  • 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 hers, 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.
  • 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?"
    "Yes. He's right here. He's got a gun to my head."
  • Only a Flesh Wound:
    • 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. He seems more upset about the damage to his suit.
  • Only Sane Man: Malky is this to Stansfield and his gang of corrupt DEA cops who seem mostly incompetent or dumb. This is the most prevalent during the raid on Mathilda's family where Malky seems the only one to keep a cool head after the massacre.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: A not-so-subtle caricature of a jogging 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.
  • Pineapple Surprise: This is how Leon kills Stansfield and himself.
  • 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.
  • Precocious Crush: 12-year-old Mathilda has a crush on Léon, an adult. The international version makes it much less precocious, with Mathilda actually propositioning Leon for sex.
  • Professional Killer: Léon prefers to think of himself as a "cleaner."
  • Prove I Am Not Bluffing: To prove to Léon that she's capable of being a killer, Mathilda fires several shots out the window into passerby below.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Léon is a merciless assassin while on the clock. On his own time, he's almost childishly innocent.
  • Rabid Cop: Stansfield himself.
  • Rescue Romance: After Leon rescues her from the DEA office, Mathilda changes into a pink dress and starts talking to Leon about the importance of losing your virginity with a man you love. Leon turns down her advances, and they compromise on sharing the bed.
  • 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?
    Stansfield: Tell them... we were doing our jobs.
  • Russian Roulette: In the International Cut, 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.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Mathilda has her first crush on Leon. In the European version, she outright propositions him for sex.
  • Shout-Out: Léon signs into a hotel registry under the name "MacGuffin".
  • Spiritual Successor: Colombiana
  • 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.
  • Storming the Castle: Mathilda tracks Stansfield's crew to their precinct and infiltrates it with the intention of taking her revenge. She fails to accomplish this task and seems on the verge of being charged with some serious offenses, but luckily Léon shows up to take out some of the dirty cops and save her.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mathilda's father at one point decided to swindle the corrupt DEA from some of their product he was storing for them, and even when they clearly confront him with the fact the drugs they gave him weighed less after he returned it, he denies any responsibility. And does nothing but passively wait until they return to kill his family and than him.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Leon drinks nothing but milk, which emphasizes his wholesome and childlike personality while not killing people.
  • Training Montage: Mathilda learns gun handling, milk drinking, and chin-ups. She is not happy about the last two.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mathilda displays this in spades. See Bodyguard Crush, Rescue Romance and Sex as Rite-of-Passage.
  • Unorthodox Reload: When Stansfield is reloading his revolver, he snaps the cylinder into place with a flick of his arm.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Stansfield has a classic one near the end - also an example of All of Them
    Stansfield: Bring me everyone.
    Benny: What do you mean, "everyone"?
  • Weapon of Choice: Stansfield carries a snub-nose Smith & Wesson model 629. Leon uses customized Beretta 92FSs.

Alternative Title(s):

Leon, Leon The Professional