The Day Of The Jackal (1973 Britain/France)

Oubliez le remake 1997 de la merde. En fait oublier que Bruce Willis existe même. This is a wonderful, organic piece of thriller-narrative film-making. Over 2 hours, mostly without music, no patronizing voice-over or script-embedded exposition. Consequently, those moments where we’re not entirely sure what’s happening act as moments of suspense, not so much twists as notches in the grain of the plot. What I like most about the film is its pace. The economy with which the director Fred Zinneman tells the story is stripped right down. He allows the story to breathe inside the viewer. What else do I like about it? No CGI – hurray! No botox – bravo! No Hollywood/PC multi-culturalism to make races with brown or yellow skin feel ‘included’ in a story which isn’t theirs – wonderful! No smarmy wisecracks either.

There are more wonderful location views than in any Bond film, but shot with a marvellous photographer’s sense of their innate value – they are not presented for the viewer like trophies. Much like the novel from which it was based on, The Day of the Jackal is a detailed, compelling and cold thriller. Frederick Forsyth has never been an author who imbues his characters with much humanity or depth; he is much more adept with presenting technical and political aspects in fine detail. This served him very well in the case of The Day of the Jackal, a novel that not only was detailed in these ways, but also was primarily about a cold calculated professional killer, whose lack of depth or real identity was actually a positive for the story. In other words this story was perfectly suited to Forsyth’s style.

For those who don’t know, the film is set in 1963 and is about a French right-wing political group who want president Chares de Gaulle assassinated because of his decision to grant Algeria independence. They hire a professional killer, with no ties to them, to carry out the difficult task. Edward Fox plays the titular character with the requisite cold efficiency required. He is very much an anti-hero, and although he does murder some innocent people, he is the only figure in the film to really identify with emotionally. The French authorities are shown to not be slow to use brutal methods on their enemies themselves, while the two policemen assigned to the case are so lacking in charisma that it’s very hard to support them in their pursuit of the villain. If there is a fault with the film it must surely be that we, as viewers, are drawn to the Jackal and his against-all-odds mission – I think most people want him to succeed – and I’m not entirely sure this is what the film-makers actually intended.

The period detail and French locations are lovely, so cinematic to look at. It’s well-paced and directed with no wastage. We never get into the Jackal character’s head ourselves as viewers, there is a definite distance and we don’t always immediately know why he does certain things. This only adds to the compelling voyeurism of watching him on his deadly mission. Despite the genre, there is a definite restraint shown in the depictions of violence. It’s often implied or shown just off-screen. The focus is very much on the way in which the assassin navigates through his mission via different methods of subterfuge. The film could not be further away in style from the laughable 90’s remake. So, overall The Day of The Jackal is an excellent political thriller that combines intelligence with a gripping narrative. It shows how this kind of material should be presented on screen, where less can absolutely be more. The way that it always stays within the realm of the plausible is one of its strongest suits too. All this combined with its enigmatic central villain make it superlative entertainment. Captivant!

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Comments

  1. This film sounds immensely gripping, I’ve sadly not yet seen this but will add it to my to-watch list immediately. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cheers! I’m sure you’ll love it when you get the time to view it.

    Like

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