The Day of the Jackal-1973
Starring- Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale
Scott’s Review #1,155
Reviewed June 22, 2021
Political thrillers can run the gamut of taut plots involving espionage assassinations, and car chases all woven into the political landscape. They often run the risk of being overly complicated and losing their audience with too much wordiness and not enough meat and potatoes.
The Day of the Jackal (1973), telling the story of an assassination attempt on a world leader is perfectly paced and intriguing offering some titillating elements and nothing run of the mill. It’s not lazy and can be classified as a thinking man’s film.
I loved it.
Certain complexities and trysts experienced by the deadly title character add extra pizazz and spiciness to the already compelling plot. And the sequences of Paris and its lovely metropolis can aid any film.
A cagey and intelligent underground French paramilitary group is determined to execute President Charles de Gaulle (Adrien Cayla-Legrand), but when numerous attempts on his life fail, they resort to hiring the infamous hitman known as “The Jackal” (Edward Fox). As he plots to assassinate de Gaulle, he takes out others who stand in his way. Meanwhile, Lebel (Michel Lonsdale), a Parisian police detective, begins to solve the mystery of the killer’s identity.
The film is not in French but is English speaking.
Fox is the major draw. Charismatic, handsome, and athletic, he hardly looks like a fiend. But that’s just the point. A lesser film would have cast an actor who looks like a killer. With Fox, we get many more intricacies. He beds women…..and men. Think- a bisexual James Bond. This is enchanting to see in 1973, though the film is British and sometimes the Brits were well ahead of American filmmakers in this regard.
The director, Fred Zinneman, is actually Austrian and boy can he direct.
I wasn’t sure how engaged I would be. After all, the history books can tell us how the assassination attempt ended. It failed. What was the motivation for watching a film, especially one destined to be complicated? I quickly realized that The Day of the Jackal had that special sauce. It’s more than engaging, it’s enthralling.
Obviously, the audience is meant to root for Lebel to best Fox but there is so much more bubbling under the circumstance. The villain is mysterious and we know almost nothing about him. The ambiguity continues after the film ends. This is definitely a positive to the character and subsequently to the film.
Meanwhile, the hero of the film, the guy after the “Jackal”, is your average, every day, Joe. He is unexciting but very smart and determined to capture Fox. Lebel is quite likable for his savviness alone but I still argue many will root for Fox to escape the clutches of Lebel. I know I did.
Great scenes occur in a swanky hotel when Fox becomes intrigued by Madame de Montpellier, played by Delphine Seyrig. He picks up the rich and mysterious woman as they chat in the dining room. He later sneaks into her room and gets the girl. Whoever cast this woman must have seen the Hitchcock classic Frenzy (1972) because she’s a dead ringer for Brenda Blaney (Barbara Leigh-Hunt).
Is it an accident that both meet grisly ends?
Not to be satisfied with merely bedding rich women he goes to a Turkish bath to avoid the police and picks up a French gentleman. It is implied they have a romantic date before the gentleman catches onto Fox’s identity (he is now on the run from the police) and meets his maker in his own kitchen.
The Day of the Jackal (1973) is a meticulously crafted film that should be the blueprint for anyone intent on creating a political thriller. It avoids hokey stereotypes or predictability instead offering an edge-of-your-seat experience with nuances for miles.
It’s exceptional on all levels.
Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing