Thursday, June 14, 2007

Artist and Muse #21

I must admit it took me awhile to warm up to the films of French director Luc Besson. In the eighties his films felt too Americanized and cold for me to consider him in the same league with other French directers his age such as Leox Carax and Jean Jacques Beineix.
All that changed in 1994 when I saw an evening showing of THE PROFESSIONAL with my uncle at a near empty theater in Bowling Green, Ky. Besson's exciting and moving film centers on a hired and lonely assassin Leon, played beautifully by Jean Reno, who takes in a young teenage girl played by Natalie Portman in her first role.
I liked THE PROFESSIONAL (or LEON as it titled in its superior longer form) so much that it made me go back and re-view Besson's previous output that I had originally been so hesitant about. While I still find LA FEMME NIKITA to be slightly overrated (I actually prefer Bridget Fonda in the American remake), his SUBWAY has become one of my favorite French films of the eighties.

The most haunting aspect of LEON is the performance of the just thirteen year old Portman. It is one of the great performances by a child actor in screen history and I still think one of the best performances of the nineties by a child or adult. She reminded me a lot of a young Natalie Wood, she had that same kind of depth and that same haunted old before her time look in her eyes. I remember seeing her on Letterman at the time of the LEON'S release and being so impressed by how obviously intelligent and thoughtful this young girl was.
Portman's talents have largely been wasted since her debut in LEON, most notably in the STAR WARS prequels, but her work in Mike Nichols CLOSER and James McTeigue V FOR VENDETTA served as splendid reminders that she might indeed be the best actress of her generation.
Besson has unfortunately only directed a handful of features since and none have measured up to LEON, although count me in as an admirer of both THE FIFTH ELEMENT and THE MESSENGER. Rumors have floated around for years about a follow up to LEON with Portman repeatedly saying she would do it in a heartbeat. I am torn between thinking they should just leave the original alone and wanting Besson to attempt it. Luc Besson needs to get his mojo back with a live action feature that puts him back on the streets of his early films, if that means a sequel to one of the most perfect films of the nineties then so be it.


Rogue Spy 007 said...

Jeremy, this is another great post from you. I love "The Professional." It's one of my favorite films. I could watch it over and over again. I think Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, and Gary Oldman all have outstanding performances in this movie. Natalie was so unlike most child actors in her performance. She seemed more like an adult, seeming like she was wiser and had lived more life than her age would imply. I do think her talents have been wasted in much of the fare she's done since then. I also think she was good in "Closer" and "V for Vendetta." She was definitely not put to good use in the "Star Wars" prequels. She really shined in "The Professional." Portman and Reno had great chemistry together. I would love to see a sequel to this, but I am hesistant about whether it can capture the same magic as the first one. Plus there would be the absence of Jean Reno. I do like Luc Besson, whether it's been movies he's directed or produced. I did like his "La Femme Nikita." I've also liked movies likes "The Fifth Element," "Transporter 1 and 2," and "Unleashed." It would be nice to see him in the director's chair and not just producing as he mostly does now it seems.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Keith,
Glad to hear you dig the film also. I totally agree with you about Natalie and Jean.
I like a lot of the films Besson has had a hand in writing and producing. I think Kiss Of The Dragon and Unleashed are really underrated and The Transporter films are fantastic fun.
I do hope that he does return to directing live action films again. I haven't seen his most recent animated stuff but i know he is getting quite abit of flack from some on them.
Thanks again.