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Movie Reviews

Day of the Jackal



Released: July 30th 1973 (UK)

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Stars:Edward Fox, Terence Alexander

Certificate:15 (UK)

Reviewer: Patrick Campbell

Cinema audiences have always enjoyed the thrill of the chase. From ‘The 39 Steps’ (1935) to ‘The Fugitive’ (1995), from ‘Man Hunt’(1941) to ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002) amongst countless others, the history of film is littered with examples of characters on the run, in movies which always provide an exhilarating rollercoaster ride all the way through to their dramatic final moments. In the first two films referenced above, the characters who are fleeing are innocent – unfortunate men who fall victim to circumstance and misunderstanding who have to fight to clear their name. In ‘The Day of the Jackal’ (1973) however, the self-proclaimed “Jackal” is anything but.

We don’t know exactly who the “Jackal” is, but his real name is not important. He is approached by the OAS – a French militant group who stress that they’re “patriots” rather than “terrorists” – and asked to assassinate President de Gaulle for them in exchange for a lucrative sum of money. The “Jackal” has not built up his reputation through luck, and immediately begins to plan the hit in a detailed and meticulous manner. Though he’s portrayed in the movie as a loner – a cold-blooded killer who is incapable of being close to anyone – the hitman uses his contacts to assemble the materials he needs for the job, as well as the false documentation which allows him to slip into France and make his way to Paris for Liberation Day. The “Jackal” has a problem, however, and it comes in the shape of “the best detective in France” Claude Lebel (played by veteran French actor Michael Lonsdale) a man who goes about his work as methodically as the assassin does his. As Lebel and his team desperately try to catch their man, the killer spends every waking moment evading their grasp and staying one step ahead. Once the story is established, so is the suspense. Can the “Jackal” keep ahead of his pursuer for long enough?

Edward Fox’s portrayal of the mysterious “Jackal” is a strange one. At the beginning of the film he seems too excitable and foppish for the role of a cold and feared assassin, and in the initial meeting with the OAS his dialogue is stilted and his acting poor. But as the film develops, so does Fox into the role. Calming the character down, Fox’s “Jackal” becomes much more believable and sinister, a man who happily murders people as casually as he would change television channels on the remote. Whilst Fox plays the main character however, mention must go to Lonsdale’s portrayal of Lebel as arguably the film’s most interesting figure. In the scene where he informs the Police that confidential information has been leaked to the “Jackal”, he is asked how he knew which phone was the right one to tap. His reply “I didn’t…so I tapped all of them” delivered with a Gallic sullenness and a shrug is the best line of the movie. It’s a real shame that Lebel will forever be consigned to just one cinematic appearance. Much less interesting characters have stumbled their way into multiple films.

‘The Day of the Jackal’ does many things very well. It is a genuinely exciting film, one so laden with suspense that at the film’s pivotal moments you find your heart beating just that little bit quicker than usual. The plot flows smoothly and is easily understandable, and despite the film lasting over two hours it does seem to fly by. Some things in the film are a little too convenient – a personal favourite being a large road sign simply stating “Paris (Left), Italy (Right) – but you’re enjoying the film too much to criticise. After a curious start, ‘The Day of the Jackal’ blooms into an excellent movie which is well worth seeing.

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