The Day of the Jackal (1973)
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The Day of the Jackal, about a fictional attempt on Charles de Gaulle in the early 60s (when he really was targeted for death by a "patriotic" extremist group, is a procedural film that takes us through the nitty-gritty of an assassin's job (they even show him buying dye for his hair), with some portion of the film given over to the policemen's point of view, in a pen-and-paper universe that makes their task seem that much harder to us Internet types. The net effect is that you're rooting for a cold-blooded killer at least as much as the police commissioner in charge of the affair, and the spy sent to seduce a French official to get ahead of the investigation. Getting there, and seeing how each piece matters, is what it's all about, and the finale is almost necessarily an anti-climax (since we know de Gaulle wasn't killed). A slowly-building thriller with lots of European locations and great character actors in the minor roles for good measure.
Terrific 70ies thriller. Must see!
The Day of the Jackal is an English-French co-production that spins the loosely reality-based yarn of a master assassin hired to go his thing with then-president of France (as of this film's setting: 1962), Charles de Gaulle. This film really finds its own place in thriller history through one element; there are plenty of gritty spy thrillers that mostly occupy the perspective of the killer, but this one excels in just how English it is. I didn't realise something this dry could also be so very exciting.
Edward Fox's Jackal reminds me a fair bit of Alain Delon as Jef Costello in Le Samourai, though noticeably edgier. This is as cold as killers come. I particularly enjoyed the subversion of the typical
romance subplot you might see in a spy/assassin movie. It's just one point in a very fine-tuned script that has a good grasp on its characters, which is an element any good thriller needs to elevate itself to great. Michael Lonsdale is respectable as the Deputy Commissioner brought in to catch the eponymous Jackal, but Fox is the star of the show. I'm a sucker for the silent killer, but this is one for the books.
This film is, in a large way, quite surprising; it has no right to be as tense as it is but, well, it is. It spends an almost criminal amount of time following the Jackal in what would be his typical chores. The heat doesn't start to creep up on him until the second act of the film, but from the moment the Jackal appears on screen it's simply electric, which I think is owed in no small part to Fox's performance. He created a villain so magnifying that it becomes not only entertaining, but gripping to watch him quietly hide his gun inside his car, or adjust the scope on said firearm.
I can't quite put into words what made this film work so well for me. It's something I could see many people being bored by. Nevertheless (I use that word too often), I would highly recommend it. A great thriller made even greater by it being great in defiance of what should be plodding material.
Also, phonetically, wouldn't "70ies" be pronounced "seventy-ees"? I'm not trying to be a grammar snob over here; it just seems like an obviously incorrect way to spell the thing you're trying to spell.
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In 3 official lists
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This movie ranks #69 in Akira Kurosawa's A Dream Is a Genius
This movie ranks #74 in BFI's Top 100 British Films
This movie ranks #802 in Halliwell's Top 1000: The Ultimate Movie Countdown