Film 46: Day Of The Jackal
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.
Last time we watched The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s debut film. It’s one of the best we’ve watched so far.
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:
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.
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.
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.
A professional assassin codenamed “Jackal” plots to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France. 7.8 stars.
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.
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.
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.
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.