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Savant Short Review:

Le Professionel

Le Professionel
Image Entertainment
1981 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 109m. /
Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, Michel Beaune, Cyrielle Claire, Jean-Louis Richard, Sidiki Bakaba
Cinematography Henri Decaë
Film Editor Michelle David
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Writing credits Georges Lautner, Michel Audiard from the novel by Patrick Alexander
Directed by Georges Lautner

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

What a pleasant surprise - Savant is attracted to a movie he knows nothing about, only because its soundtrack theme sounded intriguing on an Ennio Morricone collection. Le Professionel turns out to be an excellent thriller, a spy drama about a renegade agent that's exciting, funny, and intelligent too.


French assassin Joss Beaumont (Jean-Paul Belmondo) returns from the African republic of Malagasy, where he's been imprisoned for two years because his own superiors turned him in to the Malagassic authorities when they decided to abort his mission. Instantly his old department is mobilized to eliminate him, but Beaumont is faster and smarter than all of them put together. He stops briefly to see his wife Jeanne (Elisabeth Margoni) but tells her their relationship means nothing compared to his planned revenge, which is to kill the original victim he was assigned two years ago, Malagassian President Njala (Sidiki Bakaba). The minister (Jean Desailly) sets ruthless policeman commissaire Rosen (Robert Hossein) on Beaumont's trail, and forces old friend Valeras (Michael Beaune) to betray him; Beaumont avoids them all and gets unexpected help from a codebreaker in their own department, Alice (Cyrielle Claire) and a hooker associate of Njala's (Marie-Christine Decouard). Using his wits and fighting skills, Beaumont walks in and out of various traps, and even manages to break into a castle surrounded by policemen, to carry out his mission.

Fast, clever and beholden to nothing done before, Le Professionel is a slick package, a spy thriller that relies on brains instead of guns. Jean-Paul Belmondo has the years on him finally to reflect a level of experience and weariness befitting a believable noir-ish hero, yet he's in superb shape. There's a constant flow of fistfights and combat encounters in the picture, none of which are hyped with cutting or music. Belmondo makes them all credible. There's also an impressive car chase down some steps near the Eiffel Tower, a very effective game of hide 'n seek on the ledges of a highrise apartment, and an assault on a guarded castle. Some of Belmondo's escapes are actually of the, 'now I never would have thought of that' variety. To be fair, Belmondo is such a bruiser that his solution to exiting a hotel room with two detectives outside is to just use the element of surprise and rush them like a mad bull.

There's some good character work. Michael Beaune does a great job of finking on his old pal, and then standing up to him in a very well written scene. Star Robert Hossein (who looks something like an evil Perry Como, if you can picture that) is an excellent foe who's more ruthless than villainous; he ends up in a Leone-like showdown with Belmondo that is all the more amazing because it works 100% - two guys with guns waiting for the other to make a move.

Throughout all of this, Belmondo maintains a level of lightness with his ironic humor that keeps Le Professionel from becoming a Point Blank - like existential downer. The women who aid him also add to the fun, as they're sexy, defiant, and likeably independent from the intelligence establishment that sends men out on treacherous missions, only to betray them when political winds change their direction. Special mention needs to be made of a second string spy thug named Farges (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) who keeps a consistent attitude despite being bested and beaten by Belmondo at least four times in the picture. You can't help but like him by the end. Which is how I felt about Le Professionel in general. Very good movie.

Image's DVD of Le Professionel is very plain-wrap. This is no liablilty because the show is nicely selfcontained, and you don't walk away needing outside explanations or context (as you do with Criterion's excellent Le Trou). The enhanced picture looks pristine, and the mysterious score by Ennio Morricone, which sounds at first like it belongs in a sensitive love story instead of a spy chase, sounds great. This is a surprise picture for people who like intelligent thrillers.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
La Professionel rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 2, 2001

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