The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal ★★★★

Viewed with the Amazing Edith’s Collab Film Group.

A refreshing political thriller threaded with a strong classical narrative that is as every bit methodical as the best investigative police dramas out there—although Fred Zinneman’s The Day of the Jackal at some point feels more like a documentary. While the first 45 minutes is the hardest section to get through (honestly felt more like a slog) attempting to follow the political set-up and immense ensemble of characters (and the faces to go along with those characters), the film hits its stride well and never eases off the gas by the 1 hour mark. It’s a methodical game of cat and mouse unlike the feverish and more frantic films of its ilk that exist today (a la Bond, Bourne, Jack Reacher, Mission Impossible, No Escape, etc.).

Edward Fox’s Jackal is most definitely the literal definition of a “man on a mission” as he never stops moving with urgency and rumbles with a suave swagger, yet he never feels mentally unwell or unstable (as this tends to be a trait of modern film assassins in some way—enduring horrifying ghosts of their past). On the flip side is Michael Lonsdale’s most humble deputy commissioner Lebel who is enlisted to catch the man attempting an assassination on France’s president, and is superbly restrained—also defying his modern descendants by doing everything by the book instead of attempting to juggle the moral conundrum of “crossing the line”. In this way, The Day of the Jackal is entirely refreshing.

The film’s best trait though, lay within its classical narrative structure. Director Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, A Man For All Seasons, High Noon, etc.) shows off his immense filmmaking skills with knowing when, where and how to make scene changes and edits to carry the story along with ease and an expert eye. There is sequence after sequence with Edward Fox’s assassin that carries so many details without needing him to speak. Brief shots of clocks with the second hand moving induce a little more urgency, and also, provide a reality check to the grueling procession of every day police work. While I love me a good CSI episode or Lethal Weapon jaunt, these along with many others refuse to show the less enthralling side of the job (obviously because they need to keep ratings up), but The Day of the Jackal manages to be interesting and at the very least get across the exhausted feeling of staying up days at a time to go through paperwork. There were at least two scenes where I chuckled in amazement when Commissioner Lebel finally found the Jackal’s first identity and he tells the Board that the photo would be with them in hours—the second scene is when a full crew of the police force is looking for the identity and the one guy says 4,000 entries will take them a week to sort through… Talk about how the times have changed. Additionally, the camera moves (or follows) these procedures and the editing keeps a steady pace. We feel as though we fully understand the Jackal’s routine, as well as Lebel’s, through all of the former’s deception and the latter’s thoroughness. Having the expert camera work also helps the key aspect of suspense gradually build, since this becomes the major emotional investment Zinneman strives for.

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