When I saw that Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice came out today, I thought it’d be as good a time as any to run down a list of cinema’s best apprentices. To be honest, I also thought it would be a pretty easy list to make, because cinema is filled with great apprenticeships, right? Eh…not so much.
Sure, there are a ton of father-son or mentor relationships, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I don’t care about a teacher teaching the student before they realize that, really, the student was teaching them all along. Say what you will about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as a whole – I happen to think it’s a perfectly satisfying fantasy-for-kids flick with a host of impressive set pieces and special effects – but at least it doesn’t stoop to that kind of schmaltz.
So in honor of Nicolas Cage teaching Jay Baruchel how to shoot plasma bolts (how can you not like a movie that combines Nicolas Cage and plasma bolts?), here are my favorite on-screen apprenticeships. Note: most of them involve teaching a set of skills a bit more lethal than bolts of energy.
Leon and Mathilda, The Professional
Luc Besson has made a lot of tremendous, influential films in his time, but none more so than The Professional. Not only did it introduce most of the world to Natalie Portman, but it also gave us a tender story about the passing of skills and lifestyle between generations. It just so happens those skills and that lifestyle involve shooting people in the head for money. As far as diametric opposites go, you can’t find a better pair of opposites than Leon and Mathilda, and as far as the actual apprenticeship goes, Mathilda is a surprisingly agile learner.
Jack Shaw and Lt. Cmdr. Annibal Ramirez, The Assignment
The Assignment may be just an above-average thriller about terrorism, but it knocks the apprenticeship angle out of the park. Donald Sutherland is totally believable as a veteran CIA agent who can probably find a way to chop your head off with a rubber band, while Aidan Quinn is great as a soldier who conveniently looks enough like an international terrorist named Carlos the Jackal to be trained as an impostor. And it’s the training sequences that make The Assignment memorable. They know how to show gradual progress instead of the instant mastery of skills that should normally take years to develop. If you ever need an example of how to train to be a badass, see the “look in the fridge” exercise in The Assignment.
Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
I know, I know; Luke and Obi-Wan are an obvious choice, but I don’t care. Don’t tell me that, as a kid watching Star Wars, you didn’t wish to have an Obi-Wan of your own teach you the ways of The Force. Every kid did and I refuse to believe otherwise. For that fact alone, this duo earn their spot on this list.
The Bride and Pai Mei, Kill Bill: Vol. 2
The relationship between The Bride and Pai Mei in Kill Bill isn’t so much as an apprenticeship as it is an old martial arts master begrudgingly doing a favor for his friend by not killing the silly white woman left at his temple steps, but, that’s close enough in my book. She may have only learned one particular skill from him, but it was a pretty damned useful one.
Hit Girl and Big Daddy, Kick-Ass
Yes, they’re father and daughter in real life, but in their crime-fighting life, Hit Girl is absolutely Big Daddy’s gleeful little apprentice. Not only is she a quick learner, but she’s also an in-the-trenches, hands-on learner. There’s no philosophizing talks of theory, just a whole lot of on-the-job training that pays off in big and bloody and glorious ways.
Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and Giuseppe Baldini, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Tom Tykwer’s fantastic, underappreciated Perfume: The Story of a Murderer features a very rudimentary apprenticeship, but its purely functional nature is what makes it interesting. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) doesn’t want to become a perfumist like Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), he just wants to learn how to capture the essence of smells. He’s already got a nearly superhuman sense of smell, so all he needs from Baldini is a simple set of lessons on how to distill and preserve odors. And he proves to be so damned good at it, that he goes on to do things with smells that Baldini could never dream of. It may sound silly, but if you haven’t seen this flick, you need to bump it up to the top of your must-watch flick pronto.