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Film / Le Professionnel

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Le Professionnel (The Professional) is a 1981 French revenge thriller film directed by Georges Lautner (of Les Tontons flingueurs fame), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Desailly, Robert Hossein and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu. It was adapted from the 1976 novel Death of a Thin-Skinned Animal by British author Patrick Alexander, the dialogues were written by Michel Audiard (who also famously worked on Les Tontons Flingueurs) and the script was written by Jacques Audiard (son of Michel). Ennio Morricone composed the soundtrack, and notably incorporated his 1971 composition "Chi Mai" as the film's main leitmotif. It is one of several works to use it, but not the first.

French black ops agent Josselin "Joss" Beaumont (Belmondo) is sent to kill Colonel President Njala, the dictator of Malagawi, an African country. However, before he manages to accomplish his mission, the political situation changes drastically and the French secret services hand over Beaumont to the Malagawian authorities. After a long, unfair trial, during which Beaumont is injected with drugs, he is sentenced to long-term penal servitude at a "re-education camp". Beaumont manages to escape two years later, and comes back to France, with some unfinished business regarding his initial mission.

Not to be confused with fellow assassin thrillers Golgo 13: The Professional (known in Japan as Golgo 13) and The Professional (which is simply known as Léon in France).

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Agents Dating: Beaumont had an affair with another agent, Alice Ancelin. It was a non-professional relationship.
  • Batman Gambit: Beaumont's revenge plan has his enemies of the secret service acting just as he expects. It culminates with Farges shooting Njala by mistake.
  • Berserk Button: Touching or threatening Beaumont's wife is not a good idea.
  • Best Served Cold: Beaumont comes back to France after two years in a penal colony, and plans to take revenge for what the French secret service did to him. It consists in ruining an important deal between France and Malagawi by accomplishing the very mission that signed his doom two years before: to kill President Njala.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Njala could have killed Beaumont instead of sending him to a penal colony. Lampshaded and Justified by Njala in the end: he says he could have killed Beaumont and then explains he hoped to use him as leverage.
  • Bulungi: The fictional African country of Malagawi, where Beaumont is initially sent to assassinate the president and ends up in a penal colony. The name is inspired by a real country, Malawi that is.
  • The Chessmaster: Beaumont manipulates his enemies in order to achieve his goals. Inspector Picard even compares him to a chess player using the white pieces and who's always one step ahead of his adversaries.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Beaumont's dog tag does not seem relevant to the plot, until he uses it to make believe he died instead of Rosen.
  • Cold Sniper:
    • Beaumont is a crack shot with assault rifles, and demonstrates it during his evasion in a village against Njala's death squads.
    • Auxiliary inspector Farges uses a sniper rifle in the climax. He shoots Njala with it, thinking he got Beaumont. He doesn't miss Beaumont the second time.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Beaumont hides in the backseat of Farges's car and threatens him with a gun when he comes back into it.
  • Darker and Edgier: The film is about political corruption and revenge, and features some Cold-Blooded Torture. It came out after Jean-Paul Belmondo played dashing or goofy heroes in a couple of action comedy films in the 1970s. Beaumont was not even supposed to die in the first versions of the script but it was eventually decided to kill him.
  • Determinator: Beaumont will not stop until Njala is dead, even after two years of penal colony and with ruthless morally bankrupt cops sent after him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Njala's death squads burn down a whole village while searching for the two escapees (Beaumont and his friend).
  • Downer Ending: Beaumont is shot dead by Farges as he was about to take the helicopter following the death of Njala.
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: Beaumont soaks a croissant in Farges' coffee in a bar the morning after the interrogation of Beaumont's wife, takes a bite in it, then punches Farges several times. Upon leaving, Beaumont tells the bartender/baker that the croissant is "for [his] friend!" (Farges).
  • Faking the Dead: Beaumont makes the service believe that he is dead: after shooting Rosen, he places his dog tag around Rosen's neck, so the police assumes that it is Beaumont's corpse.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Rosen. During his dialogue with Beaumont's wife, he remains very polite, but he authorizes Sergent Gruber to torture her.
  • Great Escape: One day, while working at the penal colony and only overseen by two guards, Beaumont simulates stomach aches. One of the guards beats him up and he suddenly performs a Groin Attack, dispatching him. The other guard tries to aim his shotgun at him but ends up with Beaumont's Malagawian friend's pickaxe planted in his back. The two then escape.
  • Hellhole Prison: Beaumont is badly mistreated at the penal colony, first hanged upside down then forced to carry stones under a blazing sun, with guards beating up prisoners at the slightest occasion.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Doris Frederiksen (Marie-Christine Descouard) is one. She's hired by Njala, which provides a helpful mean to get to the dictator for Beaumont.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Alice Ancelin helps Beaumont when he is wounded after the car chase.
  • It's Personal: Between Beaumont and those who mistreated his wife, and between Beaumont and Njala.
  • Just Following Orders: What Farges invokes when Beaumont comes at him the morning after his wife was interrogated, stating that Rosen ordered him to slap her. It doesn't go too well as he ends up getting punched three times, with Beaumount telling him that he didn't want to punch him either, and that his wife asked him to do this in turn.
  • Kangaroo Court: The trial Beaumont is held before in Malagawi is blatantly unfair, with no lawyer to defend him. And he is drugged beforehand.
  • Karmic Death: Rosen had it coming for his Kick the Dog on Beaumont's wife. And Njala too.
  • Kitsch Collection: Edouard Valéras (Michel Beaune) has a collection of robot toys.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Beaumont's a Malagawian friend gets killed attacking Njala's death squads with his shotgun instead of following Beaumont's advice to not shoot and escape unnoticed in the back of the hut they're hiding in.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Beaumont does not suffer much from the bullet he received in his arm during the car chase.
  • Penal Colony: Beaumont's sentence is an indefinite time to spend in a penal colony in Malagawi.
  • Police Brutality: Farges beats Jeanne, Beaumont's wife. Then Commissionner Rosen (Robert Hossein) doesn't hesitate to unleash his sadistic subordinate on Jeanne to find out about Beaumont's whereabouts. Said subordinate is a Psycho Lesbian, humiliates Jeanne by tearing her clothes off and intends to torture her with water, and even suggests to rape her.
  • Powerful Pick: Beaumont's Malagawian friend kills one of the penal colony's guards with his pickaxe, allowing them to escape.
  • The Precarious Ledge: Beaumont hides on the ledge of his wife's flat. Then he escapes this way.
  • President for Life: President Njala is your typical African dictator who found it very profitable to be in cahoot with a major Western power (and former colonial power) like France. It has some roots in reality, with the infamous "Françafrique".
  • Prisoner's Work: In Malagawi, Beaumont is condemned to forced labor at a penal colony and has to break and transport stones, and makes a friend there. They're not chained, which allows them to kill the guards and escape.
  • Professional Killer: Hence the film's title. Beaumont has been trained as a black ops agent working for the French secret services.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Sergent Gruber, the female agent who's tasked by Rosen to torture Beaumont's wife Jeanne. She seems to get some sort of sexual kink doing that, and even tells her she wouldn't hesitate to rape her.
  • Quick Draw: Beaumont and Rosen end up in such a Duel to the Death with revolvers. Beaumont wins.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: Ennio Morricone's "Chi Mai" was previously used in the 1971 film Maddalena as well as in the series An Englishman's Castle and The Life and Times of David Lloyd George.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Beaumont's tactic to infiltrate the castle: he remains calmly seated in the back of Farges's car and even openly gives him his instructions.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Pretty much every major character's sidearm is a revolver. Beaumont uses a Colt Python, most notably.
  • Rogue Agent: Beaumont becomes one upon his return to France, opting to take an ironic revenge against the secret service that betrayed him.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The Malagawian friend Beaumont made at the penal colony dies during their escape.
  • Shirtless Scene: Beaumont appears shirtless several times, for example, when his arm is wounded and Alice Ancelin tends him.
  • Spy Fiction: Of both the "Stale Beer Flavored" and "Bleach and Ammonia Flavored" categories.
  • Would Hit a Girl:
    • Farges does not hesitate to beat Jeanne, Beaumont's wife, when he realized he was tricked by Beaumont.
    • Beaumont nearly drowns Gruber in a bathtub, since she was about to torture his wife.