The Day Of The Jackal – The Chain Reaction Film Club

Film 46: Day Of The Jackal

Jackal 1

The Rules

My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.

Previously On…

Last time we watched The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s debut film. It’s one of the best we’ve watched so far.

The Shortlist

There was no shortlist this time round. Just a very very long list. Tim struggled so much to narrow it down that he simply didn’t. Here’s what we were considering:

ShortlistShortlist 2Shortlist 3

Yeah. A fair old bit. Fortunately this was a rare case where Tim had strong hankerings for one film in particular, and so the die was cast – he picked The Day of the Jackal.

The Link

Jackal 5

Edward Fox in The Duellists

This time Edward Fox is up. Kind of like Keith Carradine last time, the Venn diagram of films he’s been in and films I’ve seen don’t really overlap. But so many of them either sound interesting or are classics I really should have seen that I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing more of this particular Mr. Fox.

The Day of the Jackal and me

I’ve worked out that it’s unrelated to Carlos the Jackal. I know it involves a hitman. I’m also sure it doesn’t star Bruce Willis sporting a silly moustache.

Jackal 3

Dear god, look at that thing

That’s about it. It’s one of those films that I’ve heard of (and probably nodded sagely when it’s come up in conversation to hide my ignorance) but never seen.

IMDB says

A professional assassin codenamed “Jackal” plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. 7.8 stars.

I says

Jackal 2

The gentleman hitman…

The older I get, the more I realise that all that you really need to make a film, book, play, whatever, compelling is someone overcoming obstacles. The beauty of DOTJ is that it shows us two parallel stories – the hitman and the police. They are each trying to overcome the obstacles that they keep putting in each other’s path. That’s about it. There’s not much in the way of personal backstory – in fact the Jackal himself has no personal investment in the matter at hand other than money and professional pride. It’s amazing how enthralling it is, and an object lesson in less is more.

Jackal 4

… and the down-at-heel cop. It’s a classic combination

My grasp of French history is good enough to know that Charles de Gaulle was not assassinated, and I wasn’t expecting some kind of Inglourious Basterds-esque rewriting of history. Again, because of the simplicity of the setup that’s irrelevant. The moment-to-moment working to overcome obstacles is enough to keep engaged and on the edge of the seat.

Watching it in 2017 one of the things that most struck me was the speed of information. It moved so slowly. Sooooo slowly. At one point police went around the area they thought the Jackal might be staying in and gathered guest information from all the hotels. Then first thing in the morning it was sifted through for likely suspects. One was identified and the police swooped in. Of course this all took hours and hours so he was long gone. These days a few clicks in a database and the jig would be up. I wonder if we’re going to see an increase of things set in period because it’s easier to create obstacles – kind of like how mobile phones never work in horror films; they make escape too easy.

And, on a side note, Edward Fox sports an excellent array of cravats.

The Verdict

A brilliant setup that’s gripping in a way that it feels like we’ve somehow lost track of how to achieve in the intervening decades. Stone. Cold. Classic.

Coming Attractions

This may have been The Day of the Jackal, but we might try and have The Month of the Fox – Edward Fox had quite a few tempting films so I’m probably going to limit myself to his filmography for the next choice.

@BornToPootle

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The Chain Reaction Film Club: The Player

Film 36: The Player

The Player 01

Eh? What’s the Chain Reaction Film Club?

Having been friends for too long, my chum Tim and I have run out of things to talk about. So instead we meet up pretty much every week and watch a film. The only catch is that we take it in turns to pick, and it must be linked to the previous film by a shared actor. We’re looking to catch up with films we haven’t seen for ages, find classics we’ve overlooked and uncover hidden gems. We started with the film Chain Reaction, hence the rather fortuitous name.

So where are films 1 – 35?

Good question! You can find the full list of films here. I’ve been meaning to blog about it from the start but… haven’t been. If I have the time I’ll fill in the blanks.

Previously on…

There’s been a bit of a gap thanks to me being off on holiday. Last time we watched The Tall Guy, a Richard Curtis comedy that isn’t as fondly regarded as his more recent stuff. It was good fun, especially when Emma Thompson was on screen. And made me want to see Griff Rhys Jones’ ‘Whoops, Hamlet.’ Just a shame that doesn’t exist. This time around it’s my choice…

 

The shortlist

Jeff Goldlum

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Morning Glory

Jurassic Park

Chain of Fools

The Player

The Fly

Silverado

 

Emma Thompson

Last Chance Harvey

In the Name of the Father

Peter’s Friends

 

Geraldine James

Made in Dagenham

 

The Choice

From the shortlist I’d only previously seen Jurassic Park (a lot) and The Fly (once, a long time ago). Neither me nor Tim are fans of Wes Anderson, but do like a bit of Bill Murray, so Life Aquatic was a front runner for a while. Eventually though I narrowed it down to The Player and Silverado. Both have incredible casts for the next pick. Tim is already a fan of Silverado, but hadn’t seen The Player, and so the choice was made. Tim is also easily flummoxed by big casts full of options for the next film, so that may have influenced my choice a little.

The Player 02

The Player and me

Tim Robbins is a favourite thanks to an early appreciation for Bob Roberts, Shawshank (obviously) and The Hudsucker Proxy (which I’ve seen more times than any other Coen Brothers film now that I think about it). I like Robert Altman too – though he’s one of those directors who I always think I’ve seen more of than I actually have. So why haven’t I seen it?

It’s a film about Hollywood. I know Hollywood is fond of films about Hollywood, but I’m not really. Whether it’s a fear of self-indulgence, worry that I just won’t get the references (Hail Caesar suffered from this in particular) or just not being that interested in the realities of the film industry there’s not much that entices me. It’s either all backslapping or spleen-venting. So I imagine that’s a part of why I haven’t sought it out before, despite being aware of it. My understanding prior to watching was that it fell more into the spleen-venting camp than the backslapping one. Was I right?

IMDb says

A Hollywood studio executive is being sent death threats by a writer whose script he rejected – but which one?

I says

Yup, definitely more spleen-venting, but has a lot of fun while doing it. Tim Robbins is the Hollywood exec who  spends his days rejecting scripts and suggesting tooth-achingly cheesey amendments to what might otherwise have been interesting projects. He’s wary of his position at the studio, particularly as a new hire is brought in, and things take a dark turn when he starts receiving death threats with increasing regularity…

This is definitely in the top tier of films we’ve watched in the Chain Reaction Film Club. From the opening 7 minute tracking shot (during which characters discuss great opening tracking shots) to the Hollywood ending, The Player managed to make for an interesting character drama and an enjoyably vitriolic look at one side of the film business.  I’m sure there’s lots of exciting technical stuff going on (I spotted a lovely shot that begins on Burt Reynolds and chum chatting, zooms in to the table behind them where our main character sits down and has a conversation and ends by zooming back out to Burt still deep in conversation.

And that cast… It’s an absolute who’s who of Hollwood circa 1992. Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Rod Steiger, Harry Belafonte even!  The only oddity was seeing so many people playing themselves then Whoopi Goldberg turning up playing a character rather than herself. It took a while to work out who was a character and who wasn’t.

The plot was engaging and, if not ultimately that satisfying, sacrificing that for the point it was making about the industry seems fair enough. The other day I read a piece about studio execs rejecting pitches that were secretly famous French nouvelle vague classics (a marketing stunt, but hey ho) which chimes nicely with this film.

Tim Robbins is both naïve and conniving, a great choice of actor for an unlikeable role. This felt like a proto American Psycho – released at almost exactly the same time as the book – and they’d actually make for an interesting double bill. The studio machinations, and particularly the way they talk about scripts, still feel very relevant.

The verdict

Definitely an overlooked (by me) classic

Coming attractions

It’s Tim’s choice next, and he effectively has all of Hollywood to pick from. Brion James is a good shout for the next link (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch), as is Bruce Willis (I’d kill for a Fifth Element rewatch). All being well the film club will take place on Wednesday and I’ll update as soon as possible afterwards.