Lionsgate // 1981 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // July 20th, 2010
Never leave vengeance to amateurs.
Tough guys had quite a year in 1981. Mel tore up the highways as a The Road Warrior; Roger served Queen and country For Your Eyes Only; Kurt would Escape From New York; and Charles granted a Death Wish II more street punks. French audiences got their own dose of action heroics from The Professional. After his breakthrough role in Breathless, actor Jean-Paul Belmondo excelled as an action star in the 1960s and '70s. In this 1981 vehicle, Jean-Paul's screen appeal is easy to appreciate as he plays a renegade Secret Service agent. The cover art on this Lionsgate DVD release makes him look a little like Carey Grant but in the movie he exhibits more of a Steve McQueen brand of cool.
Agent Joss Beaumont (Belmondo) is sent by his government to assassinate an African dictator. However, when the political situation changes, his keepers decide to give him up rather than call him back. After a show trial, Joss is sentenced to hard labor in a Malagawi prison. Two years later, Joss escapes and returns to France at the same time as the Malagawi president's visit to the country. Joss has a score to settle with his Secret Service bosses and a job to finish.
Le Professionnel, as it's titled in its home country, starts off without much to distinguish itself from other international action flicks of its period. Joss sweats it out on a chain gang while being brutalized by standard issue military guys in a generic jungle setting. Yet, there is something very striking about Joss. His stoic resolve and brooding silence hints at a fierce warrior waiting for the right moment to strike. His fighting style is a bit loose and brutal, lending the action choreography a slightly improvised feel. Joss tells one unlucky guy his specialty is "espionage and brawls." Short and to the point.
It doesn't take long before the movie becomes a showcase for Belmondo's ultra-cool tough guy. The fictional country Malagawi is the setting for some budget firefights -- sometimes they don't even bother with squib effects -- but Joss is really in his element once he returns to Paris. There, it's less about outright action and more about the cat and mouse game between Joss and his Secret Service ex-colleagues. Notably, Colonel Martin Rosen (Jean-Louis Richard, School of Flesh) is a sadist determined to stop Joss no matter what methods he needs to employ.
Joss has the charm of a James Bond and the brutal efficiency of a Jason Bourne. He has no qualms about using his wife to lay a trap for Rosen. Then, it isn't hard to believe women wouldn't mind getting roughed up by thugs to help out Joss. It's great fun to watch Joss toy with and outwit his pursuers. There are some satisfying action sequences including a fairly reckless car chase through the city. Belmondo has the necessary movie star chops to make the story convincing while slyly reminding viewers that he's got it all under control. After this introduction to the French actor as an action star, I would have been very happy to discover The Professional was just one in a series of Joss Beaumont movies. Alas, I'll have to console myself with the wealth of action films from Belmondo's career.
The movie has appeared on Region 1 DVD previously but that Image Entertainment release is out of print. Without having the older disc for direct comparison, I will report that this Lionsgate release looks very good. The picture is clean, barely any dust or specks, and the details are sharp. Colors are slightly cool but skin tones are consistent (Belmondo looks more tan than the rest of the cast) and the overall picture is bright without too much compromise to the shadows. The monaural French audio sounds just fine. Dialogue has a reasonable presence and Ennio Morricone's haunting score is nicely featured. An English-dubbed audio track is included but it sounds weak and distant. If you insist on watching the movie in English, it's like listening to it over the phone.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated