The Cleaner is the greatest assassin of all time, and no, I’m not talking about Cedric the Entertainer. Back in 1990, we were given a brief glimpse of him, courtesy of Luc Besson, who would later go on to work on films such as Lucy, Taken, The Transporter, 3 Days to Kill, Columbiana and The Fifth Element. Needless to say, Besson knows how to create a killer, but what’s more important is he knows how to formulate an assassin.
To be a prime assassin, a character must not only kill important targets, but do it in a surprise manner. In which case, we can knock many contenders off the list. James Bond is not an assassin. Why? His missions aren’t to kill people; it’s merely part of his intel collecting and loss-prevention goals. In which case, Derek Zoolander is more of an assassin…though Bond could do a far better job. That makes the real competition more like Jimmy Tudeski (The Whole Nine Yards), Vincent (Collateral), and Martin Blank (Grosse Pointe Blank).
As much as I loved Tom Cruise as Vincent, I can never forget my old friend The Cleaner. He was initially a mere side character in La Femme Nikita (1990), under the name Victor Nettoyeur. While the main character, Nikita, learned to be a proficient assassin, The Cleaner was the one called in when messes got so bad even she couldn’t handle them. He’s like The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, but a proven combatant.
Our next taste of The Cleaner was in 1994, when Léon: The Professional came out. This film moved The Cleaner partway out of the shadows and offered an intriguing glimpse into his persona. The Cleaner was a one-man SWAT team, capable of popping in and out of the shadows to take out multiple individuals in moments, and with minimal shots. He’d use everything at his disposal. A person’s necktie could be grabbed to fling them down a staircase and a ceiling tile could be lifted to drop a garrote noose around an enemy neck. Even more, every person he killed was an opportunity to change disguises and continue the mission.
Unique to The Cleaner, he never loses his focus on strategy, even when the scenario seems like one for run-and-gun. Have a dozen people with machine guns outside your door? Use the pull-up bar above it to momentarily drop down, take a couple out and close the door. Truly, the only way to take him out is to have endless fodder to approach him until he begins to run out of kill options. Even then, he just may have an escape route or two he’s been saving.
After The Professional, the concept of The Cleaner became an ethos for those who took on his methods. He was a major influence on the Hitman videogame franchise and the point of the character, despite not using the term, was to be at least a cleaner. However, this gave fans of the concept a chance to dive into the shoes of the character and attempt to be him. It is possible, but requires active brainwork and knowledge. To ace a scenario, the map must be memorized, as where all useful items are. Then you have to be aware of all character movements in order to use impeccable choices, the order of which are inherently important, to enter a scene, take out who you must and leave unscathed. All the better if you can leave unrecognized.
This begs the question. If the Hitman franchise has been carrying the character well over fifteen years, what is next in line for The Cleaner? Do you know of any other examples of his ethos being used? Better yet…can you think of a better assassin? I can’t.