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  Professionel, Le Free Agent
Year: 1981
Director: Georges Lautner
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein, Michel Beaune, Cyrielle Clair, Jean-Louis Richard, Sidiki Bakaba, Pierre Saintons, Marie-Christine Descouard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Elisabeth Margoni, Pierre Vernier
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: There is a trial being staged in this African state for Joss Beaumont (Jean-Paul Belmondo), who has been accused of conducting his own crazy scheme to assassinate the President (Pierre Saintons) of the country. He can barely stand in the heat of the courtroom, but the population is on tenterhooks as not only is the public gallery packed, but this is being broadcast live on television. However, just as he pleads guilty, he collapses and is swiftly escorted to a back room, where he is injected with a sedative - after a brief struggle - and sent back to court to hear his sentence. The President chooses to be lenient and sees to it that Beaumont receives a life of hard labour: he must be made an example of...

Le Professionel was a huge hit in France, proving that they still wanted to see a homegrown star like Belmondo strut his stuff in star vehicles such as this. If you didn't know who he was before you watched this, you would certainly be interested in seeing more of him afterwards as he practically carries the whole movie on his tanned shoulders, being the most charismatic character in the story. Therefore it's little wonder most of the others in this wish to take him down, because no jail will hold Beaumont, who in spite of the somewhat mundane thriller trappings around him, is a super agent of the kind we have seen many times before.

It's just that on this occasion, he is working outside the law to exact his revenge, or rather, to carry out the mission he was given that led to his arrest. We only find this out slowly, as if director Georges Lautner was keen on sustaining some mystery through what emerges as a fairly straightforward plot, but basically what has happened is that once he was in the African state to assassinate the President, his superiors had a change of heart and decided they liked the guy, so arranged to have Beaumont captured. Thus he was set up in the public's eyes as a lone madman and not part of the French secret service, so the authorities can allow the law to take its course.

The law as applies to Beaumont, that is, and not to those who have landed him in this right up to his neck. But we can see through the early scenes of him carrying rocks about that he is not broken yet, and two years later he seizes his chance to escape. One flight across the countryside later, with a gun battle added for excitement's sake, and somehow he has landed back in Paris (we never find out where he gets his money from), and is, in somewhat foolhardy fashion, announcing his return to his bosses via a cryptic telegram. Next stop, the apartment of his wife (Elisabeth Margoni) for a touch of relaxation, then off finish off what he set out to do - kill President N'Jala, who as luck would have it is also in Paris.

There are a few bits and pieces which lift this above the run of the mill, including the wife getting interrogated by a lesbian sergeant who threatens to rape her (dunno how that would work), and a nifty car chase through the centre of the capital where Beaumont uses his vehicle as a battering ram to ensure he loses his pursuers, but if Lautner really wanted this to be as exciting as it promised to be, he should have cut down the chit-chat. Our anti-hero is the kind of guy who likes to explain himself at every opportunity, so not five minutes go by without Belmondo launching into a wry observation about his situation, whether with those who are on his side or with those who are out to get him. Then again, the way in which he resolves his problems is a clever one, and makes for a pay-off worth waiting for until the somewhat pat twist ending of the last minute. Serviceable, then, but should have been snappier. Music by Ennio Morricone, which was used for a BBC series about David Lloyd George the same year leading to a hit single in the U.K.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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