Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Long Shot

Released in 1973, The Day of the Jackal, is an Anglo-French co-production starring Edward Fox as an unnamed killer who attempts to assassinate former French President Charles de Gaulle. The film tapped into a rich seam of political discontentment and public mistrust of government institutions at the time, as depicted in films like The Conversation (1973), All the President's Men (1976) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Unlike those films however, The Day of the Jackal is a traditional thriller wherein order is threatened but ultimately justice is seen to be done. Not to say that there are not a lot of entertaining ambiguities along the way

The film begins thusly: "August 1962 was a stormy time for France", intones a dispassionate commentator in perfect 'BBC English'. "Many people felt that President Charles de Gaulle had betrayed the country by giving independence to Algeria. Extremists, mostly from the Army, swore to kill him in revenge. They banded together in an underground movement, and called themselves the OAS." What follows is a faithful recreation of an attempted assassination attempt planned by Col. Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry. This is the historical basis for what follows, which is pure fiction.

The Jackal himself is an implacable but dapper professional who wanders around the great cities of Europe - Rome, Paris, London, Vienna - wearing a cravat and blending into the background regardless of the scenery. Whether he is negotiating in seedy back alleys in Genoa, buying supplies at a bustling marketplace in Rome, or seducing a wealthy heiress in a high-priced hotel just outside of Paris, he is in total control. Meticulous planning and professionalism are his defining characteristics, nothing is left to chance. But like any respectable Englishman, if there is one thing the Jackal cannot abide it is bad manners. Rudeness, lack of grace, or the failure to heed the demands of an intricate protocol (as William Gibson might say) are sufficient grounds for a stern look from most English gentleman. The Jackal, a trained killer, just takes that same principle a few steps further.

The meticulous planning in the first third of the film is interesting but it is when the brilliant detective deputy commissioner Claude Lebel (played by Michel Lonsdale - one of the few Frenchman in the film) is hired by the French Minister of the Interior to track and catch the killer that the film kicks into high gear. The cat and mouse game between the Jackal and Lebel is an exquisite piece of narrative clockwork, the Jackal like a predator stalking his prey as Lebel narrows his search in ever decreasing circles.

For a film featuring spies, spying, assassination plots, terrorists, torture, several murders and a revenue of police, intelligence agents and border guards, probably the most violent scene in the the film is the one that features an exploding watermelon. Anyone who has seen the Zapruda film will undoubtedly be reminded of the devastating impact of the bullet that killed 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. And even though we know that French President Charles de Gaulle survived all of the numerous attempts on his life, the film certainly makes you wonder - just maybe the Jackal, as written by Frederick Forsyth, could have got away with it.

The post is part of the 'British Picture' - A Long Shot - Keyword description


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