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Le Professional

Le Professional

By Simon Powell • July 11th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
LE PROFESSIONAL (MOVIE)
Shochiku

Release: October 21st, 1981
Running time: 109 minutes

Country of origin: France
Original language: French

Director: Georges Lautner
Writers: Michel Audiard, Georges Lautner, Patrick Alexander
Composer: Ennio Morricone

Cast: Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly and Robert Hossein

Le Professional

Although probably best known outside of France for his lead role in Godard’s groundbreaking Breathless, Jean Paul Belmondo has had a long career in cinema, largely in more mainstream fare, such as comedies, or action films like Le Professional. Some sloppy scripting, and unremarkable direction stops this from being a classic, but the effortless charisma of the star helps makes for compelling and enjoyable viewing.

Belmondo plays Josselin Beaumont, a French Secret Service Agent, who’s sent to a fictional African country in order to kill the ruling dictator, Colonel Njala. However, before he can carry out his mission, Beaumont is betrayed by his government, who decide they would rather have Njala alive, and left to rot in a prison camp. Breaking free, Beaumont returns to Paris in time for a state visit by Njala and vows to complete his mission.

The story is somewhat hokey and relies a little too much on coincidences (not least Beaumont breaking out of prison at the same time as his target is heading to Paris), as well as the repeated incompetence of the Secret Service, such as a surveillance team not recognising the man they’re supposed to be watching, but the script moves along at a fast enough pace (after just 15 minutes of screen time, Beaumont is out of Africa, and that’s pretty much all of the back story we get) that you don’t dwell too much on these. There are a few other elements of the story that remain unexplained, such as how he gets back into France from Africa undetected, but these actually work to enhance the character of Beaumont. By leaving an air of ambiguity around some of his actions, it gives him an aura of mystery, unpredictability and danger, so that you never know what he is going to do next.

Le Professional

Beaumont’s no clean cut goody-goody hero, but closer in spirit to the James Bond of the early Sean Connery era, someone for whom getting the job done is the first priority, regardless of the impact on the lives of other people, whether it is his wife, his mistress or his guilt-ridden former boss. In the hands of the wrong actor, this could lead to an audience turning against the lead character, but Belmondo has bags of charm and charisma, and can play him as unflappable and dangerous without ever coming across as smug or psychotic.

Standout amongst the supporting cast is veteran actor Robert Hossein as Inspector Rosen, the policeman locked in a cat-and-mouse game with Beaumont. Cooly sadistic, uninterested in the politics and history of the situation, he’ll go to any lengths to get his man, and proves to be the only serious threat to Beaumont. Behind the camera, Georges Lautner does a competent if unremarkable job, with no particularly flashy directorial touches, apart from in one breath-taking scene of a car chase through the streets of Paris. The superb stunt work, combined with tight editing and shots from inside Beaumont’s car make for an adrenaline packed experience, as well as leaving no doubt that Belmondo is doing most of his own driving.

Special mention should also go to the score, which largely revolves around an Ennio Morricone composition, “Chi Mai“, actually written ten years previously for an obscure Italian film, Maddalena. Restrained and quite haunting, it is up there with the best of Morricone’s other work. Brits of a certain age will also instantly recognise it as the theme from the 1981 BBC serial The Life and Times of David Lloyd George, off the back of which it got to number 2 in the UK Singles Chart.

Le Professional

Simon Powell

Simon Powell

Simon grew up on a steady diet of James Bond and Ray Harryhausen films, but has been fascinated with the horror genre since a clandestine viewing of A Nightmare on Elm Street as a teenager. Since then his tastes have expanded to take in classic horror from the Universal and Hammer Studios, as well as branching out into Video Nasties, Sci-Fi, Silent Comedies, Hitchcock and Woody Allen.

Apart from getting married, one of his fondest memories is buying a beer each for both Gunnar “Leatherface” Hansen and Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse at a film festival, and listening to their equally fascinating stories of life at totally different levels of the industry.

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