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🎬 #72 The Endless Silencer & Léon's NYC
I just wanted to write a shorter version of the newsletter this week to focus on one film. I’ve rewatched this film so many times I’ve lost count - and I still feel it’s Luc Besson’s best. Standing out amongst a very interesting filmography - it’s one to be revisited time and time again, leaving you with a new appreciation for just how great a job everyone involved did, when they brought it to the screen.
1994 Dir Luc Besson
Jean Reno plays the titular character, a professional hitman with a soft centre - who transforms from wanting no roots, nothing holding him down, to a proto-father figure who wants nothing more than get out of the life and settle down.
The original theatrically released version is the better film in my opinion, the one maybe better known by US audiences is longer with extra scenes and moments, which, for me tips and taints the central relationship in murkier waters. The fact that the film is as good as it is, is almost miraculous given the story - evidence of the high wire act performed by Besson - who admits this was his dream project at the time.
It’s a taught, precise, heart-warming, uncomfortable, devastating action thriller that really might not get made these days. You fall in love with both characters, Reno playing his hitman as someone torn, someone ultimately naive and innocent - a character from a different time. Natalie Portman play’s the hitman’s would-be apprentice with a confidence and energy that eventually breaks us and Léon’s isolated, predictable existence down.
Besson’s and Léon’s NYC is a New York seen from a distinctly European perspective. As a kid I kept mistaking it for Paris or for a blend of New York and Paris [Léon’s apartment interiors where all shot in Paris] - it feels terrace like, even the quality of light that falls on the city in the film feels continental. It’s warm, balmy - and the famous landmarks are rarely seen. This is a film that feels more brick by brick New York rather than glass panels - steel and cold. Besson’s genius here is that he establishes such strong, believable characters quite effortlessly - and his meticulous control of the frame lends it a graphic novel quality without the ‘style’ really drawing attention to itself. Like the titular character, he’s well practiced, ordered, focused - he nails it, every shot.
The endless silencer I refer to in the title is a moment that I always remember - it’s a tiny thing but it says a lot about the film to me. There’s a practicality, a reality to it that I feel permeates the rest of the world of the film. In it, Léon is teaching Mathilda how to use a sniper rifle and whilst he’s building the gun for her, putting on the silencer, he instructs her about the process of learning to be a killer. But this silencer has the longest threads ever made - and he twists it on for a solid portion of the scene, it’s the fact that Besson and Reno chose to have this inane detail in there that somehow breathes reality into it. The silencer is a mechanical, technical device - this is how it’s attached to the gun - and he’s happy to show us just how much time it takes. How precise it has to be. That sums up the character of Léon - he’ll never rush, he’ll never miss a beat or take a shortcut. That’s why we love him and why Mathilda does too.
TL;DR Get taken to Besson’s vision of NYC where a story of hitman taking a young girl under his wing will leave you wishing you had a Léon in your life.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US as well as the UK.
Fact: Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker behind Super Size Me (2004), was a production assistant on Léon.
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