Can a professional assassin have a personal life? Can they ever leave the killing behind, or does the only exit lead directly to an anonymous grave? It’s a theme that French action auteur Luc Besson has returned to again and again, but never so effectively as in 1990’s La Femme Nikita and 1994’s Leon: The Professional.
In the former, Anne Parillaud is the titular Nikita, a nihilistic junkie sentenced to death after she kills a cop during a robbery gone wrong. Her execution faked, she is recruited by Tchéky Karyo’s enigmatic spook as a deniable asset of the French government. After years of rigorous training, she’s set up in Paris under a fake identity, where she’s occasionally called upon to eliminate enemies of the state.
Meanwhile, Jean Reno is professional killer Leon, who takes his assignments from Danny Aiello’s Tony, a power broker in New York City’s Little Italy. Leon is a perfect assassin and has almost no life to speak of apart from his job. When he’s not whacking rival criminals for Tony, he’s watching classic movies at a revival theatre or caring for his single houseplant. It’s a lonely existence, but a stable one.