Now and then, out of the new darkness of once vibrant movie palaces across the world, a light will reemerge; a light so bright, so compelling, that despite the passing years, it still has luster.

Here it is, an action/thriller with two flawed and unlikely heroes. There is no car chase, but it comes with a heart, in fact two beating hearts, one, in Léon, an aging Frenchman, (Jean Reno “Ronin” “Da 5 Bloods”) a cold executioner, sealed in years of professional work. The other is a tiny heart in Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl growing up in the concrete jungle of lower Manhattan.

In the first few hours of this day, she will see unbelievable horror on her family, a disinterested mother and drug dealing father (Michael Badalucco). Prepare for violence with a French touch.

I may as well tell you now, you will be surprised, maybe shocked, to learn that this 12-year-old brilliant little girl grew up to be super star Natalie Portman.

Léon, who lives down at the end of the hall with his beloved potted plant, will view the action as well, through a tiny peep hole in his door. Soon, Mathilda will knock on that door as killers search for her.

Writer/director Luc Besson (“Le Femme Nikita” 1990, “Taken” 2008) takes these two scarred and hardened human beings and brings them together in an unusual “buddy” film, that offers one hour and 46 minutes of heart-stopping, gripping terror and a soft, sweet passage of life between.

Vibrant, vicious street characters will emerge like suited rodents and uniformed roaches as the film hurtles forward. Leon, without an assignment at hand, will visit his handler and paymaster, a subtle and deceptively sweet Danny Aiello (“Do The Right Thing” and “Moonstruck”) who runs a drug center and bar.

You will meet the bent and emotionally crippled DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman in one of the many stunning roles of his career) who comes to this hallway looking for Mathilda’s fathers’ purloined drug stash.

Except for some street scenes most of the action will take place in this hallway and two apartments where there isn’t a moment of claustrophobia. These forgotten and dank floors will, before the day is done, be filled with the elite ranks of New York’s swat teams, with more fire used than in all of D-Day.

They are all there to stop and capture Léon and his 12-year-old student.

What sets this thriller drama apart from the usual slapdash “kill and maim” American pieces, is the relationship between the assassin and the child, and the touching and sometimes funny moments, when Mathilda begs him to teach her the tricks of his trade, as they go looking for a new place to live and encounter suspicious hotel clerks.

The last 20 minutes of “Léon: The Professional” hold the best of classic shoot outs, as Léon with his professional cache of firepower holds off the dozens of swat team killers. Trust my years of watching such set ups, when I tell you, this will leave you with sweaty palms and palpitations for weeks.

 

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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