Try a Little Tenderness: ‘The Professional’ Proves Caring is Crucial for Great Action

Turns out empathy is more necessary than adrenaline.
Leon The Professional
By  · Published on January 5th, 2017

Some folks will tell you that a great action scene requires great effects: gigantic explosions, limitless gunfire, ravenous flames, reckless chases. Some folks will tell you that precise choreography makes for a great action scene, a whirlwind and martial ballet that’s quick-cut to be as frenetic visually as it is physically.

These folks wouldn’t be wrong, but they would be missing something far, far simpler that makes for great action scenes, something that isn’t the effects or the choreography or even the action itself, but rather the characters around which the action revolves. The key to a great action scene, it turns out, is caring.

Think about Luc Besson’s The Professional versus any Transformers movie. All are classified as action flicks, but the former is clearly a much, much better film than any of the latter because it is character-driven, not action-driven, it isn’t about events it’s about the people the events are happening to, which engages the audience in a different way, one that extracts empathy as well as adrenaline. People don’t care if Shia LaBeouf gets eaten by a robot (or whatever’s happening in those flicks) because he’s a flat character, a one-note ball of manic energy with no dimension and no drive other than survival; people do, however, care very much if Leon – who is technically a bad guy, a professional hitman and not an innocent teenage boy – gets hurt because they have seen the man behind the action, the mild-mannered, almost childlike persona between the bombastic set pieces, and by this he has been deemed worthy of concern.

In the following video essay from Rossatron, this issue is plumbed deeper particularly in regards to how Besson makes the character of Leon so likable and thus relatable despite being a man who kills for a living. It’s a lesson that stretches beyond this one movie and across all action films, and an insight that instantly separates great films of the genre from the rest of the herd.

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