A Smile and a pot-plant.
Two of the coolest and toughest characters in film. Steve McQueen as Lt. Frank Bullitt and Jean Reno as the hitman Leon.
Tough guys made tougher by showing a gentler side.
Frank Bullitt knows he has been given the stickier end of the stick when he is asked to guard a witness for the slick politician, played by Robert Vaughn. He is serious. He doesn’t smile. Everything is unemotional and focused.
Until we see him with his girlfriend, played by Jacqueline Bisset. He sits with her at a restaurant, clearly with a number of her acquaintances, and he gazes at her across the table and smiles. He cares. He relaxes.
Leon is the reclusive guy at the end of the hall. He doesn’t smile. He kills people for money. Until he answers the knocking at his door of a twelve-year-old girl, whose family have just been murdered in their apartment, by crooked cops.
Until he opened the door, he had pot-plants. In fact, one of them becomes an endearing emblem at the end of the film. He cares for something. He tends to it with the same detail with which he takes care of the tools of his trade.
If you want to make your tough guys tougher, then show that they care about something. And remember that to keep them tough, you don’t need to have those things kidnapped or blown up, which is the normal way of story plotting.
A smile. A pot-plant.