"I like these calm little moments before the storm" are the first lines of dialogue uttered in my favorite scene from Luc Besson's Léon: The Professional. The sentiment is offered up by the drug-addled, crooked cop Stansfield (Gary Oldman) right before he barges into the apartment of Mathilda's (a very young Natalie Portman) parents and starts blasting everything that moves with his shotgun while humming Beethoven.
Besson's film has no shortage of fantastic sequences -- most of them involving star Jean Reno – but Oldman's blitzkrieg on the unsuspecting family is a pitch-perfect encapsulation of everything that makes Léon so utterly fantastic. The sequence is shot inside a small apartment, with Oldman stalking through narrow hallways and popping in and out of rooms like a Satanic Jack-in-the-Box while the family scurries in a futile attempt to avoid his wrath. While many of today's action films love to take a "bigger is better" approach when it comes to staging set-pieces, Besson's concept of the scene is more impressive because of the cramped confines. The hallways are so thin that Oldman fills them almost completely, creating subtle visual tension because the audience understands intrinsically that there's no way to get around him.
No less remarkable is composer – and frequent Besson collaborator -- Éric Serra's score. Stansfield might love classical music, but the soundtrack for this particular scene is much more sensuous and dark, featuring a Middle Eastern vibe that starts out slowly and builds as the violence escalates. Oldman mentions that for this kind of work, Mozart was "a little bit light". Such is not the case with Serra, whose seductively lush and heavy musical selection adds yet another layer of depth to an already compelling sequence. However, what really makes this scene work can be summed up in two words: Gary Oldman. Oldman isn't given an abundance of screentime in Léon, but he makes every second he's in front of the camera unforgettable.
This scene is his best in the entire film, starting with the strange, almost snake-like way he crunches his pill in the opening through to his final advice to Mathilda's father to "check out Brahms, he's good too" after he's just finished killing almost all of the man's family. Oldman's Stansfield is eerily reminiscent of a real-life version of The Joker - a psychopath with a very bizarre sense of humor – and he's more terrifying because of it. Anyone who can go from shotgunning innocent people to dispensing advice about classical music in the span of a few minutes is a scary individual and a worthy adversary for even the best protagonist. It's not all about the dialogue, though. Oldman imbues Stansfield with some exaggerated physical gestures, including not only his oddly intriguing way of popping his pills, but the way he parts the beaded curtain when entering the bedroom to pantomiming playing the piano while discussing his feelings about Mozart. I'm hesitant to call Oldman's performance subtle, since Stansfield is so over-the-top, but the actor certainly makes the character memorable. Honestly, I've only scratched the surface when it comes to everything I love about this scene -- but instead of spelling it all out, I'd rather you check it out for yourself below and let me know if you dig it as much as I do.