It’s perhaps not the most obvious choice, but Léon (AKA Léon: The Professional in some countries), directed by Luc Besson, is my favourite film of all time.
It’s gritty and violent yet beautiful. Natalie Portman is exquisite as Mathilda, the twelve year old girl who wants to avenge the murder of her family and Jean Reno is perfect as Léon, the simple yet deadly hitman who saves her life then reluctantly takes responsibility for her wellbeing. The relationship between the two characters is sweet as they teach each other about worlds they have no experience of, but at times it becomes complex and controversial (I’ve deliberately never watched the director’s cut, which apparently explores this theme further, as I think any more would make the film uncomfortable to watch).
My favourite element of this film is Gary Oldman’s performance as Stansfield, the corrupt DEA agent responsible for the deaths of Mathilda’s loved ones. His performance is brilliant; particularly his psychotic monologues and his reaction to the mystery drug he takes. Seeing him in Léon prompted me to seek out more of his performances.
The acting in this film is superb and it is directed and shot beautifully. There are some touching, humorous scenes as we learn more about Léon and Mathilda but these are underpinned by themes of revenge and violence. As if the final scenes of Léon aren’t poignant enough, Sting’s Shape of My Heart plays just as the credits roll. Beautiful. If you haven’t watched it I highly recommend that you do.