assassin known only as the “Jackal” (Edward Fox), and the desperate French government, always a step behind this clever fiend and the malevolent body backing him.
This is a big movie. The ensemble’s massive – a grand assemblage of worn-out men in finely tailored suits whom we sometimes cannot tell apart. (At the nucleus is Michel Lonsdale’s Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel, who leads the investigation.) The running time’s epic, a steady 145 minutes. The stakes are high, the performances showing it; one wouldn’t be surprised to find big beads of sweat on the foreheads of the protagonists in close-ups.
In some sequences, The Day of the Jackal is masterfully terse. The scene wherein the Jackal is bartering with a Genoan forger (Ronald Pickup) at the film’s beginning is a tour de force in high anxiety, enhanced by line delivery that ever so slightly is edged in tangible nerves. And so is the entire subplot that finds the Jackal seducing – and then destroying – an aristocrat (Delphine Seyrig) who knows too much. The conclusion effectively puts us in the shoes of law enforcers: thrust into a streets on Liberation Day, we can feel the terror in the hearts of the men we’re rooting for as they scour the crowded premises for the snake with a gun.
But The Day of the Jackal is too lumberous, too old-fashioned – a movie which should logically work but nonetheless never quite soars. The running time is obviously a mechanism to slowly stretch out the rubber band that is the storyline until it breaks, but tedium arises more often than thoroughly developed tension as an effect. The large cast of characters ensures the feature be rid of intimacy – though we do come to like Lebel – and as such the risks seem only one-dimensionally high. Only Fox, a sinewy, slender brute who epitomizes stealth and suavity, provides the film with the modernity it needs to tell a story as frantic as this one.
The utmost mistake, I think, was putting Zinnemann at the helm. Though undoubtedly an influential filmmaker – he gave classic Hollywood some of its premier features with 1951’s High Noon and 1953’s From Here to Eternity – he is very much an old man’s director. With its flat visual style and conventional storytelling, The Day of the Jackal is reminiscent of the static thrillers of the yesteryear, and that more or less conservative stylistic output makes it pale in comparison to other politically charged – and relatively naturalistic – pulse pounders of the era, particularly Alan J. Pakula’s Paranoia trilogy. So The Day of the Jackal is the most aggravating sort of movie: the kind that is well-made, well-shot, but is, nonetheless, only fine. We can sense the better movie lurking beneath it. It doesn’t help that the outcome is predestined, either. C+
2 Hrs., 23 Mins.
The Day of the Jackal January 9, 2018
ut from the same cloth as the quintessential conspiracy thriller Z (1969), Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal (1973), adapted from the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth, is a generally tense, semi-fictionalized tale of suspense that details a terrorist organization’s many attempts to try to off French president Charles de Gaulle.
Set at the tail end of the Algerian War – the summer of 1962, to be exact – the movie centers itself around a cat-and-mouse game being played by an