peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 09 17 TheDayOfTheJackal

The Day of the Jackal (1973)

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I think I read Frederick Forsyth's classic airport thriller in the mid 1990s. The premise is that some French military veterans felt betrayed by President Charles de Gaulle's acceptance of Algerian independence in the early 1960s and decided that a coup d'├ętat might be the ticket. Forsyth knew this was beyond their skills and had them hire an Englishman.

The book and movie (directed by Fred Zinnemann) are authentically early 1970s: it's fiction but fearfully holds to the major facts of history, making it more Puzo's Godfather than Harris's Fatherland, subbing details for imagination. The cinematography is fine and shows us a France and Western Europe somewhat familiar from the Bond movies of the era. The romance bit felt pro forma. The parallel police detection thread did not strike me as plausible; they never consequentially chase the wrong rabbit. After a few quiet killings the ultraviolence of the conclusion is anticlimactic. Edward Fox does the necessary in the lead but it would've been so much more fun if they'd cast the similarly-stringy David Bowie. As the Jackal he has so many opportunities to pull an exit scam but somehow there is honour amongst these outlaws (for the most part).

Roger Ebert: four excitable stars, "unfold[ed] in almost documentary starkness" and a plot summary. Vincent Canby: by historical determinism/veracity, "the suspense ... must depend on our wondering just how the assassin is going to fail". Which is a spoiler-robust strategy I guess. "The details are minutely observed and, to me, just a bit boring. I keep thinking that although it could have happened, in this case it didn't."