spreading the thunderbird1958 love
1968: february 27

the professional

Back when I was in grad school, I was asked to describe Lolita in one sentence. I said something like "A middle-aged man fucks his 12-year-old step-daughter." When it was argued that Nabokov was a brilliant writer, I replied that he might well be brilliant, but if you wrapped a dog turd in a Tootsie-Roll wrapper, it would still taste like shit.

I thought I was clever when I was a grad student.

Apparently, the French version of The Professional (Léon) is more explicit regarding the relationship between the title character and the 12-year-old girl, Mathilda,  who becomes something of a partner to him. According to the IMDB, some of the scenes which were eliminated when the movie was released in the U.S. include "Mathilda asking Leon to have sex with her and Leon refusing ... Mathilda and Leon sleeping together in a bed ... Leon and Matilda going to a restaurant to celebrate her first hit." It probably says something about American Puritanical sensibilities that scenes like this had to be hidden from our view, and there's probably someone out there making a connection between those sensibilities and Nabokov's satirical view of America.

The thing is, there's something of the dog turd about The Professional, and I can't see that the missing scenes would help ... in fact, they'd just pile on the dookie. Natalie Portman is terrific in this movie, making her attempt to become a hit-man seem reasonable enough, at least in the context of the movie. But she doesn't get any help from writer-director Luc Besson. She suffers through the horror of having her entire family gunned down, and beyond an affection for her younger brother that is barely established, she recovers remarkably quickly, proceeding to insinuate herself into the life of the professional hit-man who saved her. Precocious isn't a big enough word to hold all that Mathilda encompasses. She can shoot, she can cuss, she comes across like a pre-teen sexpot ... it barely matters that she never actually kills anyone or fucks anyone, it's enough that we know she's capable. What this says about 12-year-old American girls, I have no idea, and in fairness, Besson has no interest in presenting a neo-realist study ... his New York City is drawn from fantasy. But the end result is a stylish muddle, with Portman's fine work almost drowned out by Gary Oldman's weird-even-for-him performance as a killer DEA agent.

I'm not sure why I missed this one back in the day, and over the years, I got the impression it was some kind of classic. So I was disappointed to find it was merely a mediocre wannabee-kinky mess.

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