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The Best of 2007: 'Angel-A'

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Thirteen years have come and gone since wowing us with his extremely effective action drama known to American audiences at first as The Professional and to French audiences only as Leon (the most recent DVD release is a compromise of Leon: The Professional) and thirteen years have gone by having not seen anything remotely coming close to quality (1997's The Fifth Element and 1999's The Messenger are certainly not masterpieces). It was only four years before that when 'Professional' director Luc Besson became highly recognized for his French "bitch in your face" action chick flick Le Femme Nikita (which later turned up again as an American remake Point of No Return in 1993 and as an American TV series under the original title). So I guess it's taken this long for Besson to finally get his groove back with the highly simplistic, yet wonderfully emotional, Angel-A.

As the title seems to imply, the section 'Angel' is emphasized which brings us to the next element of discussion. Essentially, this film is a reconfiguration of Frank Capra's 1946 holiday masterpiece, It's A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. What makes this different than a remake is the addition of new elements facetiously constructed together in a witty script consisting of romance and good old fashioned 'out on the town' shenanigans-- a popular subject among the French. The film balances a very careful blend of classic film troupes of 60's black and white French romance films ala Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard with classic fairy tale film magic ala Walt Disney and Jean Cocteau combined with modern troupes consisting of the seedy, dark French criminal underworld (like a modern day French Connection) and the very liberal thoughts on what is love ala Paris, je t'aime (my 12 pick on this list).

What makes the film Angel-A particularly charming is the idea of giving an inept, foolish, handicapped (you'll notice he never removes his right hand from his pocket because the actor lost it in real life) petty criminal actually getting help from a mysteriously resourceful, overly intelligent woman who dresses and acts like a prostitute (did anyone mention she's 6 feet tall? Very amusing next to the 5'4" Jamel Debbouze delivering a wonderfully edgy, but warm character) and whose mission is to obviously make sure this man lives to accomplish great things in his life whether he is aware of it or not. Pretty unconventional for what could have been a drab rearrangement like 2000's The Family Man. For director Luc Besson, this film marks a return to his native France and returning to a form that he is best remembered for: stories where men make great realizations and women are awesome badasses. Although this film came out in France in 2005, Besson wasn't able to get this on DVD in this US till this year. This reviewer is happy enough it was made at all.