Have you ever just latched on to a performer, and they never seem to fail you? Maybe a Springsteen or Stevie Wonder? I’m that way with films and certain stars – Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart or Gregory Peck. They never fail(ed) to entertain and captivate. The problem is their best work product was more than 40 years ago . . . and all three of them are dead.
So, is there anyone around today who does this for me in contemporary films? There is, and I even surprised myself when I came to realize it, because on the one hand he is probably well-known to most of you, but not obvious. He isn’t a B actor, but he’s at his best in a supporting role, unless he’s the lead. If I’ve piqued your curiosity, it’s the French actor Jean Reno.
Reno was born in Casablanca, French Morocco in 1948. He is equally comfortable working in French, English, Spanish and Italian. His American credits include Armored with Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne, Couples Retreat with Vince Vaughn and Jason Bateman, Flyboys, Mission: Impossible, and of course the Da Vinci Code as Captain Bezu Fache. My personal favorite is Ronin where he is superbly cast opposite Robert DiNiro.
I think his best Hollywood film is probably the Professional aka Leon: the Professional. This film is different than almost all of his other “American” films because it isn’t an ensemble cast, he’s not on a team. Reno plays Leon, an immigrant to America seeking the American Dream . . . as a hitman for the mob. Mathilde – a young Natalie Portman is Leon’s 12 year old neighbor. She witnesses the murder of her family after returning home, and saves herself by hiding in Leon’s apartment. The movie is Leon’s quest to care for, teach, and avenge the death of Mathilde’s family by corrupt cops.
If you remember Jodie Foster opposite DeNiro in Taxi Driver, you’re not too far off, but while Portman’s Mathilde isn’t a working girl, she brings a sophistication to the screen that Foster doesn’t. It’s Leon the professional killer and green-thumb who has the humanity in this film and he reaches out to someone who desperately needs him. You wouldn’t be remiss in watching any of Reno’s dramas, either the Hollywood ones, or his French ones. He is a champ at portraying the weary “I’ve-seen-too-much” mid level “flic” (French policeman) or the cynical Senior Detective. I’m not sure why, but the French and French actors can still make Film Noir (Where have you gone Mr. Mitchum,) even in color.