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i wonder if budget is at all a criterion for whether or not a movie can be considered an exploitation flick .
take the professional , for example .
it boasts extremely glossy cinematography , a couple of recognizable name actors , and a couple of fairly impressive explosions .
it's also basically about violence and cheap titilation , and features a central relationship between a middle-aged man and a twelve-year-old girl with a decidedly ambiguous sexual dimension .
the professional is all over the map , and its pretensions of being about anything more than its most unpleasant elements simply make it all the more unpleasant .
the professional of the title is a new york hit man named leon ( jean reno ) , brutally efficient but also very isolated .
one day he is forced to let someone into his life when a girl from his apartment building knocks on his door .
her name is matilda ( natalie portman ) , and the rest of her family has just been killed by crooked and very wired d . e . a .
agent norman stansfield ( gary oldman ) after matilda's father tried to rip him off .
leon reluctantly takes matilda in , then begins to teach her his profession when she says that she wants to avenge the murder of her young brother .
the two become closer , which makes them all the more vulnerable when stansfield learns that they know too much , and sets out to eliminate them both .
writer/director luc besson has gone this route before with his popular french import la femme nikita , a slick potboiler about a female assassin .
there is no question that besson can make a great * looking * film ; with the assistance of cinematographer thierry arbogast , he has created a film chock full of moody close-ups and evocative lighting .
but beneath the shiny wrapper , there isn't nearly as much going on as besson would like us to believe .
the relationship between leon and matilda never clicks because neither one is given a character to develop .
leon is mostly a collection of quirky traits , all intended to show us that for a hired killer , he's really not so bad a guy : he drinks lots of milk , takes meticulous care of a potted plant , and enjoys gene kelly movies .
jean reno succeeds at giving leon a haunted and desperate quality , but he never makes an emotional connection to matilda .
natalie portman is all wrong for a part that called for a much grittier quality , but she doesn't have too much to work with , either .
besson would have been better served spending more time trying to bring his characters to life , and less on feeble attempts at humor which are often embarrassing .
a silly game between leon and matilda involving celebrity impersonations is completely out of place , as is a scene where matilda shocks a hotel manager by announcing that leon is her lover ; character is thoroughly sacrificed for a cheap gag .
gary oldman's entire part is something of a cheap gag , wild-eyed and way over the top , but at least he is interesting to watch .
there isn't a real person to be found anywhere in the professional , which isn't always a problem in an action thriller , except that this one is trying to pass itself off as something more .
a more disconcerting problem with the professional is that it plays around with the sexuality of a twelve-year-old in a really distasteful way .
there were only two real choices for dealing with that component of leon and matilda's relationship : confront it head on , or ignore it entirely .
but besson flirts and teases the audience with the idea that he's going to show them a forbidden love story , while choosing simply to focus his camera on portman's rear end and dress her in skimpy clothing .
this is to say nothing of the questionable decision to make it look like quality paternal time when leon is teaching a child to load a 9mm pistol , or the blood which is spilled aplenty .
a great deal of the time , the professional is just plain sleazy , and all the soft filters in the world can't disguise that fact .
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