Re-Experience The Violent Beauty Of ‘The Professional’

In 1994, The Professional captivated audiences with the story of a solitary hitman named Leon (Jean Reno, who is celebrating his 67th birthday on Thursday) who took a recently orphaned neighbor (Natalie Portman) under his wing to teach her the ways of his trade while simultaneously working to take out a crew of corrupt DEA agents led by the eccentric Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman).

Over the past two decades, the action thriller has become a cult classic as a result of its writing, cinematography, and the on-screen chemistry between Reno and a young Portman.

It’s brutal, it’s beautiful, and the only way to truly celebrate it is to really highlight the moments (not just quotes) that make this film special.

“Somebody’s coming up. Somebody serious.”

In the opening scene of The Professional, Leon is assigned a new target — a businessman who’s not even supposed to be in town. We only see the cleaner in action when he surprises a bodyguard, kills him, and disappears again in a flash. Because he can seemingly show up anywhere, the target assumes there are multiple hitmen. That’s just how good Leon is.

Sniffing Out the Truth

The first time we see Norman Stansfield, one of his agents has already talked him up better than a wingman on a Friday night mission. He’s convinced Mathilda’s father that Stansfield has the ability to sniff out lies (I feel like I read that in a comic somewhere), so he should tell them how their pure dope somehow got cut down now and avoid the hassle. After getting way too close for comfort, Stansfield takes a good few whiffs and gives him a tough deadline.

“We said noon. I’ve got one minute past.”

Honestly, on a first watch, you might not even realize that Stansfield and his crew work for the DEA. They have tactics like a drug cartel and slaughter an entire family for one bag of cocaine with bullets flying in every direction, at random, until the place looks like a warzone. But, to be fair, 12:01 isn’t noon.

The Door Scene

I usually despise child actors. They either look completely lost or they’re just mimicking adult mannerisms with a sassy voice (almost every kid on Disney Channel). But Natalie Portman’s acting display in this scene is one that I’ll remember for all the right reasons. She somehow keeps her composure after walking past what used to be her home, but is now the grizzly murder scene of her entire family with the men responsible waiting for her inside. The terror on her face as she begs Leon to open the door makes you want to reach out and do it. And the hesitation on his makes you believe there’s a real chance he won’t.

Class is in Session

Leon teaches Mathilda things that a normal person, without military training, would’ve never thought of.

This scene makes me think twice about going for any walks in the park. You never know who could be on top of a building, bonding over the thought of shooting you where you stand.

“Stop Saying Okay!”

This image may be the one that sticks with you the longest. A tall European man walking around with a little girl and a plant. It looks really innocent for a movie about murderers.

Also, it’s probably best that Leon had Mathilda shoot paintballs for now. The first time she held a real gun she blindly shot it out of a window hitting who knows what, which led to them having to relocate and the establishment of some ground rules.

“Do you like life, sweetheart?”

Security in the 1990s must have really sucked. I mean, no, you wouldn’t expect a 12-year-old to come into a DEA headquarters with a bag full of guns. But you also might want to raise an eyebrow at a 12-year-old working alone in the food delivery business (child labor laws, anyone?).

It’s not clear exactly what Mathilda had in mind, but she didn’t even get a chance to put her plan into motion when she followed Stansfield into the men’s bathroom. Oldman completely owns the room here as he delivers a disturbing “I could kill you” speech with no one else around.


I’d like to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite podcasts, Hollywood Babble-On: “exquisite acting.” Exquisite acting is what you call it when actors take overacting to new heights and their performance goes from “too much” to “you know what? Go big or go home.” In this scene where the DEA learns just how deadly Leon can be, Stansfield has to make it painfully clear (to the audience as well) when he wants everyone on hand to take him down.

“He’s here. He’s got a gun to my head.”

When you’re playing a first person shooter video game you’ll often find yourself in predicaments where you have no idea what’s waiting around the next corner. It could be nothing or it could be a horde of mutant zombies looking to make you one of their own. That’s probably what this SWAT guy felt like when he took the lead to Leon’s apartment just to find him waiting with a pistol. Well, maybe not the zombie thing. But the fear is still there. You can just tell from the looks on the cop’s faces when they find out what’s waiting for them.

Note: This SWAT team really has no idea what they’re doing, do they? I feel like they skipped some key lessons in basic training. You know, like “Look before you shoot.” They’re not much better than Mathilda with that.

“I Love You.”

Things got a little weird when Mathilda confused her pre-adolescent feelings and told Leon she was in love with him. Then it got even weirder when she told the hotel staff that they were lovers after she got mad that he was a decent human being for walking away. I’m kind of surprised they just let them leave after that, to be honest.

But, once things got cleared up, Mathilda and Leon were able to explain how they appropriately loved each other as both master and pupil and close friends when they say what could be goodbye.

A Final Gift From Mathilda

Whenever Leon went on a job, he wore a long trench coat to hide the miniature armory he had strapped to his chest. We saw it earlier in the movie, but now we see how it comes in handy when he gives Stansfield a final gift from Mathilda.

Putting Down Some Roots

As a parting gift, Mathilda took the plant that Leon cared for and planted it in the ground outside of her school for it to finally take root somewhere. Then the camera pans out to show New York City and the possibility that Mathilda may have finally escaped her previously dramatic life.