Movies We Like
The Day Of The Jackal
I often recommend The Day Of The Jackal to people and they always come back and say the same thing, “That was great. What are some more movies like that?” I’m hard-pressed to answer because there are none as good of the type (maybe in the general ballpark: State Of Siege, Z, Black Sunday, The Manchurian Candidate - I don’t know). The Day Of The Jackal is the best assassination thriller ever made. Ever. Not to be confused with the Bruce Willis sorta remake Jackal, which sucked. This, the original version based on the great novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth (The Dogs Of War), is a taut, textbook example of how to make an exciting, sophisticated, suspense film with a cast of non brand-names and without having to rely on overblown action sequences.
After France ended their occupation of Algeria their military was left with a number of pissed off killers (the O.A.S.) who wanted revenge against their president, Charles de Gaulle (see the brilliant docudrama Battle Of Algiers for further study on that subject). So they hire the world’s greatest assassin - code-named "The Jackal" (Edward Fox) - to kill him. Traveling all over Europe, the film meticulously follows the small triviality of how The Jackal puts together his plan (the goal is not only to shoot and kill de Gaulle, but to escape alive, without getting caught). He’s British, but can slip into any country; he’s an enigma and sleeps with both men and women if they fit into his plan. The film details everything in his plan, including the ways he obtains forged passports and even has specially designed bullets made.
Meanwhile the French Secret Service, suspecting a plot is in the works, put their best man on the case, Inspector Lebel (Michael Lonsdale, Drax from Moonraker). Not even knowing if an assassination is going to happen or who the killer will be, we also follow the exhaustive police work that Lebel is forced to do to try to catch up with The Jackal. Seemingly steps behind, Lebel and his team work around the clock using both guy intuition (though never forced for screenplay convenience) and savvy detective work. The tedious work that goes into tracking an international killer is really fascinating. The film works as a manual for "How-To Assassinate" and as a "How-To Catch an Assassin."
The brilliance of this film would be a little out of left field for director Fred Zimmerman who for decades had been a major director, but in retrospect was only a solid craftsman who scored a couple of monster successes (both commercially and critically) with High Noon, From Here To Eternity, and A Man for All Seasons. Though he won directing Oscars for the last two films, The Day Of the Jackal stands the test of time the best for him. He would follow it up with the very lefty Jane Fonda epic Julia (for which Vanessa Redgrave would win an Oscar and cause a scandal when her Oscar night speech would deride Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians).
Communication with their comrades is a big issue for both the police and the assassin; the film really spotlights how much easier the age of the Internet has made life in the world of crime, for both sides. Ever watch a film like Mission Impossible and wonder, “How did the team show up in Rome in a van? Did they go to a rental place and rent it? How did they put the plan into motion?” The Day Of The Jackal answers those kinds of questions; it’s about the small nuts and bolts of planning. Everything about it is believable and convincing and the film is utterly riveting. There has never been a film on the subject as good before it or since. _______________________________
The Day of the Jackal was nominated for an Oscar for Best Editing.