The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal ★★★★½

This one's for the Collab

Describing The Day of the Jackal as a political thriller might undermine its methodical patience. The thrill comes less from the movement of the film itself and more from the anticipation its pace builds up. Every minute is laid out carefully and attentively, as reminded in the constant reappearances of clocks. What seems like dozens of shots feature clocks very prominently, but just about all of them lack a second hand: the film rolls intricately along, with the minutes gliding by rather than visibly and anxiously ticking away. Again, this is how director Fred Zinnemann shows us intrigue without making a show of intrigue.

It’s an innovative and unexpected approach—even to its commercial detriment—when portraying a narrative almost totally centered on an assassination plot. This sort of film has grown to be full of action and intense music and fast-paced scenes, and it doesn’t hurt to have a few popular stars making it all that much more accessible. The Day of the Jackal, with the Jackal in question being the moniker of an assassin who feels like Mitch Rapp’s evil counterpart, is separated from the pack entirely, but proves its superiority for it. Each quiet scene, usually even sans-music, has the audience processing every moment as close as possible to how it would be lived, paradoxically increasing the tension in the audience now that these real-life situations have real-life uncertainty. This reminded me of High and Low in how even though the film seems to hit every note with admirable precision, you’re never clued into what music it’s been reading. It’s very fresh, very poignant.

The direction, while as austere as the writing and editing, has quite a bit of flair. The blocking and maneuverability is subtly genius, with every detail down to a puff of cigarette smoke looking orchestrated. There is also an interestingly great amount of symmetry in this film’s cinematography, and though this does not inherently make it good, it makes the film unique—uniqueness is definitely welcome for political thrillers, in my opinion.

As much as I love how sober-minded the craft of The Day of the Jackal is, it did lead to a slight disconnection from the characters’ personalities and complexities. Being an observer allows a great deal of intriguing insight that the film masters, but this approach only offers so much in the character department, and the after hours scenes were not a proper substitute. Other than this, I was entirely and thoroughly impressed with this film, which just might deserve classic “political thriller” status.

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