A technicolor mix of action and intrigue, The Professional (1981) is a twisty French romp flavored with odd spaghetti western atmosphere. Josselin Beaumont (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is an agent of the secret service, sent to Africa to commit a political assassination. Changes in the corridors of French power, however, scuttle the mission while it’s still in progress — and Beaumont is served up on a plate to the target nation. He survives mind control drugs, a show trial, and two years of captivity in a hard labor camp before managing to escape. Beaumont returns to Paris with a chip on his shoulder, determined to embarrass the masters who sold him out by completing the assignment they canceled — killing his original target, who is now on French soil for a diplomatic visit. To make it more interesting, he lets them know of his intentions, just to prove how adeptly he can outmaneuver them.
Ultimately this one is pretty empty, but it’s also stylish and clever, mostly clicking along despite an odd tone halfway between moody, nihilistic New Wave and Sam Peckinpah-like action-fest. Beaumont is your quintessential superspy, running circles around his enemies and charming every lady in his path, but slightly more interesting than a smug Bond-type thanks to his reckless, death wish approach to his mission. It’s unevenly paced, a bit dated, and far too high up the list in my estimation, but it’s also diverting and colorful spy camp, worth a look for buffs.