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Film / The Professional

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"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 DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Oldman) 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 (a 1981 French film), 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. She's bruised and her father is seen slapping without her provocation; her stepmother is very apathetic at best to her daughter, Mathilda and her four-year-old son.
  • 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 zig-zagged: 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!!!
  • All There in the Script: According to Besson's first script-draft, Léon's full name is Leone Montana.
  • Anyone Can Die: Sadistically so. Mathilda's family gets slaughtered, her little brother included. 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 show that he just doesn't care. Plus he's constantly shown to swallow huge amounts of drugs.
    • 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. He is an idiot, however, so his recklessness makes sense.
  • Asshole Victim: Mathilda's abusive parents and jerk of an older sister. She's not especially sorry for losing them.
  • 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 and Child Duo: Léon, an unstoppable hitman of a main character takes 12-year-old Mathilda under his wing. She begs him to avenge the murder of her family or teach her so that she can do it herself.
  • Badass Creed: "No women, no kids." Also used as a plot significant Pre-Mortem One-Liner.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA, but also murder the entire family (save one) of a man holding drugs for them and don't seem unfamiliar with hiring out professional killers from the Mob.
  • Bare Your Midriff: Fille Fatale Mathilda wears often an Age-Inappropriate Dress — cropped T-shirts or shirts.
  • Batman Cold Open: The opening scene shows Léon killing a gang of drug dealers in a matter of minutes. The entire scene only exists to show how proficient Léon is, and has nothing to do with the rest of the film.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Léon is already mortally wounded but succeeds in pulling a Taking You with Me on Stansfield.
  • Big Bad: Norman Stansfield, the Corrupt Cop Mathilda is targeting for revenge.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Léon dies, but Mathilda gets her revenge — and "Léon's" roots can grow, now. She seems to have found a person willing to protect her.
  • Black and Gray Morality: The protagonists are a hitman and a young girl interested in killing people, while the antagonist is a psychotic, drug-addled 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 Léon.
  • Celibate Hero: Léon hasn't had a girlfriend since his first love was murdered in the old country.
  • Charlie Chaplin Shout-Out: One of the celebrities Mathilda dresses up as is Charlie Chaplin.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Consummate Professional: There's a reason the film is called The Professional, and his name is Léon.
  • Cool, But Inefficient: The paintball rounds Léon uses in the "Sniper Rifle Erector Set" to train Matilda. 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.
  • 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. Doubles as Truth in Television, as NYC was in a pretty bad way at the time.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: 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.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: A uniformed cop misses Mathilda entering a crime scene because he's flirting with a woman from the building.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Léon wears the uniform of an ESU 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: ("Somebody's coming up. Somebody's serious.") (Léon's not in it, but as in Die Hard he has placed a corpse of one of the bad guys in there instead.)
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mulky 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 purely out of sadism and self-indulgence.
  • 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 ESU officer is killed this way.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Generally inverted. Stansfield is always seen wearing a beige suit and white shirt, while Leon is often seen in a black peacoat, black pants, black beanie and black tea shades.
  • Guns Akimbo: Leon initially uses two pistols when attacking the ESU officers raiding his apartment.
  • Gun Stripping: Leon shows Mathilda how to disassemble a gun.
  • 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.
  • The Hero Dies: Léon dies at the end.
  • Headphones Equal Isolation: Mathilda's stepmom didn't hear Stansfield entering and thus never knows he's there until he executes her with his shotgun
  • Hitman with a Heart: Léon has an aura of childish wholesomeness to him. He lives a simple life, takes care of a pet plant, only drinks milk, and watches classic films with childish wonder. When called upon to do an act of good, he ultimately rises to it.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Malky is clearly the brains of his partnership with Stansfield, which is why Stansfield goes off the rails after Malky is killed midway through the film.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    Léon: Stay away from him. He looks like a weirdo.
  • IKEA Weaponry: Léon's sniper rifle. Another example of Cool, But Inefficient, on location weapon assembly is simply not possible in Real Life. Even something as "simple" as attaching a suppressor to a rifle (much less assembling the entire rifle) will drastically affect the weapon's accuracy. A rifle must be "sighted in" to be accurate, and every time the rifle is taken apart and reassembled, it requires sighting in again. Usually, when a rifle is modified as suppressed, the rifle stays in that configuration for good and becomes a designated suppressed rifle.
  • Impairment Shot: During the climax, when Léon is shot from behind, the camera brightens at the instant of the gunshot and then 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 a step-mother was.
    Léon: Don' talk like that about pigs. They're usually much nicer than people.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Meaningful Name: Leon is called "the Italian Lion" in the underworld, referring to his name. Lions are considered strong, majestic creatures, indicating Leon's essentially good, protective nature in spite of his capacity for violence.
  • 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.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Stansfield is never seen wearing anything besides his trademark beige suit and white shirt. While Leon wears a greater variety of clothes, he also has a signature ensemble.
  • 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 captured.
  • More Dakka: After Léon wipes out their entry team, the ESU 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 ESU team enters his apartment.
  • Oh, Crap!
    • "This is from Mathilda."
    • This also happens a few minutes earlier, during Léon's battle with the ESU team:
    "Do you see him?"
    "Yes. He's right here. He's got a gun to my head."
    • At the beginning of the movie, you can almost feel the Fat Man's heart stopping for a second when Lèon materializes from the shadows and puts a knife on his throat.
  • 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 ESU officer 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 fact (trying to calm Stansfield, and angrily yelling at Benny for almost shooting at him and then at Willi for killing Mathilda's brother).
  • Our Presidents Are Different: A not-so-subtle caricature of a jogging Clinton serves as Mathilda's sniper training.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: Onto the skyline of New York.
  • Papa Wolf: Léon is one for Mathilda.
  • Pet the Dog: The first true indicator that Léon is a good guy is when he performs a little puppet show with a pig-faced oven mitt to cheer up Matilda.
  • 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 Léon for sex.
  • Profane Last Words: Stansfield's last word is "Shit."
  • 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 random shots out the window.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Léon is a merciless assassin while on the clock. On his own time, he's almost childishly innocent.
  • Reality Ensues: Mathilda spends a good portion of the movie training under Léon's tutelage to become an assassin. Later, after Léon dies, she asks Tony to let her work as a hitwoman for him, but he vehemently refuses to allow a 12-year-old girl to kill people for him and sends her back to school.
  • Recognition Failure: Mathilda dresses herself up as various celebrities, but Léon fails to recognize any of them, even Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe. He does however recognize Gene Kelly thanks to seeing Singing In the Rain before.
  • Rescue Romance: After Léon rescues her from the DEA office, Mathilda changes into a pink dress and starts talking to Léon about the importance of losing your virginity with a man you love. Léon turns down her advances, and they compromise on sharing the bed.
  • Re-Cut: Luc Besson's Director's Cut delves more into the relationship between Leon and Mathilda and gives the former a Dark and Troubled Past.
  • The Reveal: Stansfield and his men appear to be just another drug gang; when they hear police sirens approaching after the massacre, Malky calmly says they've got to go, but Stansfield tells Willi 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.
  • Serendipitous Survival: Matilda is out getting groceries while her family is being killed by corrupt cops.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Mathilda has her first crush on Léon. In the European version, she outright propositions him for sex.
  • Shout-Out: Léon signs into a hotel registry under the name "MacGuffin".
  • Sole Survivor: Benny serves as this among Stansfield's unit.
  • 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.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!:
    Stansfield: Bring me everyone.
    Benny: What do you mean "everyone"?
    Stansfield: EVE-RY-ONE!!!
  • 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 ESU 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!
  • Threw My Bike on the Roof: Just after the apartment raid, 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, taking the ball with him over their protestations.
  • 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. Even when they call him out on it and give him a clear deadline to return the drugs, he ignores them and waits passively for them to return and kill everyone in his home.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Léon drinks nothing but milk, which emphasizes his wholesome and childlike personality in spite of killing people.
  • Training Montage: Mathilda learns gun handling, milk drinking, and sit-ups. She is not happy about the last two.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Mathilda displays this in spades, having apparently lost most of her innocence during the murder of her family. She speaks very frankly about her desire to kill people. In the international cut, she also bluntly propositions Leon for sex.
  • Unorthodox Reload: When Stansfield is reloading his revolver, he snaps the cylinder into place with a flick of his arm.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: Léon performs a particularly nasty Neck Snap to a mook in the movie's opening in this fashion, complete with a very Sickening "Crunch!".
  • 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. Léon uses customized Beretta 92FSs.
  • Women Are Delicate:
    Léon: No women, no kids. That's the rules.

Alternative Title(s): Leon The Professional, Leon