A few weeks ago I brought up Gloria as the germ from which Léon: The Professional was born. I stick by that statement. Whether or not Besson remembered seeing Gloria, there is no way it didn’t inspire the near complete mirror of a story.
Admittedly, Léon is a much better film, in part because Natalie Portman brought an acting maturity that John Adame couldn’t manage for Gloria. Then again, Adame was a lot younger than Portman and he had a much less capable director. Adame has his moments, but Cassavetes directing style, which is very improvisational, was ill-suited to an 8 year old playing a complex part.
But the reason to see this film is Gena Rowlands. For all its flaws, she is just a tough-talking hoot. A bit tighter direction by Cassavetes wouldn’t have been out of place, but she works the hell out of what she has.
One of the interesting aspects I had forgotten was how the film kicks off. It begins with a wail. First as a voice and then in instruments. The sound is heartbreaking and edgy. It is Cassavetes impression of life and the the NYC of 1980 which was dark, dangerous, and tied up with secret connections of people running underground rivers of power and commerce. It sets the tone wonderfully, if a bit harshly on the ear.
This film has achieved mythic status in my mind, and it isn’t nearly as good a film as I want it to be. But after the credits role, it somehow still lives with you and feels better than it was; that is the sign of something special. If you’ve never seen it, make time. If nothing else, it is worth the comparison to Besson’s relative masterpiece that came more than a decade later.