Le Professionnel (1981)

Director: Georges Lautner
Starring: Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, Jean-Louis Richard, Cyrielle Claire, Michel Beaune, Elisabeth Margoni, Marie-Christine Descouard
Music: Ennio Morricone

Le Professionnel is a good old fashioned adventure spy flick. Well, it starts as an adventure, then it turns into a revenge flick, but either way it is still very entertaining, and buoyed by the presence of Jean Paul Belmondo who stars as ‘The Professional’ of the title. Belmondo play Joss Beaumont who is one of the French Secret Services best operatives. He has been trained to the highest level in weapons and tactics. He has been taught to live off his wits and not rely on backup from other agents or gadgets. But as this film opens, a mission has gone wrong. Beaumont is in the ficticious African country of Malagawi, and he is standing in the docks in a court of law. Beaumont has been accused of the attempted assassination of the leader of Malagawi, President N’jala. In the courtroom, Beaumont admits to the assassination charge. He also admits that he was working alone, and not coerced by any political power. During the proceedings though, Beaumont collapses. Court is adjourned and Beaumont is shuffled into a side room. Here he is held down and injected with a magic potion. The potion makes Beaumont compliant to his captors will. Court is readjourned and Beaumont admits to all crimes against the country, and admits that the full penalty of the law should apply in his case.

Beaumont is convicted an sent to a primitive African prison where he is tortured and treated as a slave. During his two years of incarceration, Beaumont befriends a native prisoner, and they formulate a plan to escape – it’s the one where one man pretends to have stomach cramps etc…I am sure you’ve seen it before. Their ploy works and the two men escape and head to the village where the African prisoner came from. Unfortunately the Malagawi army is on their tail and follows them to the village. The soldiers shoot up and burn the village. Beaumont’s companion is shot during the insurgence, but Beaumont, armed with a sniper’s rifle, shoots a few key soldiers and during the confusion he manages to escape.

The film then moves to Paris – we know this because of the aerial shots of the Eiffel Tower. Back on his home turf, Beaumont announces his return to France by sending his superiors at the French Secret Service a telegram. The telegram is in a code that has not been used for over two years, and takes a while to decipher. Once they do, the heads of the Secret Service and the government are in for a shock…

You see, two years ago, Beaumont was sent to assassinate President N’Jala – that much is true. But he did it on the orders of his superiors in the French Secret Service, who in turn were following orders from the French Foreign Minister. But by the time Beaumont had arrived in Africa, the situation, politically, had changed. President N’Jala was now an ally and the need for his death was no longer warranted. But the Secret Service chose not to abort the mission. Instead they sold out Beaumont to N’Jala’s Secret Police.

Now Beaumont is back, and his telegram states that he is going to go through with his original mission – kill President N’Jala. Coincidently, N’Jala is going to be in Paris over the next three days, involved in some diplomatic discussions. This gives Beaumont plenty of time to carry out his mission, and provide plenty of headaches for the Secret Service.

One of the many headaches, on top of protecting the President of a foreign nation from assassination by a highly trained operative, is that Beaumont may go to the press and release details of his original mission and his subsequent betrayal. The truth would cause the government quite a great deal of embarrassment.

Ultimately there is only one option that can be employed by the government and the Secret Service; and that is to silence Joss Beaumont permanently. The man selected to do this is the sadistic Rosen (Robert Hossein), who get’s off on hurting people. In his attempts to capture Beaumont, he manipulates and abuses those that Beaumont still has a connection wife, such as his wife, Jeanne (Elisabeth Margoni) and his oldest friend, Valeras (Michel Beaune). This begins a cat and mouse game between Beaumont and Rosen which dominates much of the film.

Le Professionnel is professionally made entertainment. Despite the quasi-political nature of the story, the film isn’t too deep. The plot machinations are simply to showcase Belmondo’s brand of death defying mayhem. As usual, Belmondo does most of his own stunts, and while they aren’t as outrageous as some of his other films, he still gets to climb about on the ledges on building and participate in a high speed car chase through the streets of Paris.

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