44 Days of Paranoia #37: The Day of the Jackal (dir by Fred Zinnemann)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at the 1973 British thriller, The Day of the Jackal.

For our previous entry, I reviewed The Fugitive, a film that is often described as a classic but which, in my opinion, has failed to survive the test of time.  Therefore, it’s appropriate that this entry is the exact opposite: a film that lives up to its reputation.

Taking place in the early 1960s, The Day of the Jackal tells the story of a nameless assassin (played by Edward Fox) who is hired by a group of terrorists to assassinate French President Charles De Gualle.  Accepting the job, the assassin tells his employers to call him “The Jackal.”

We follow the Jackal as he prepares for the assassination.  He meets with a gunsmith (Cyril Cusack) and has a special rifle designed.  A forger gets him some fake ID papers but makes the mistake of trying to blackmail him.  After disposing of the forger, the Jackal makes his way to Paris.  Determined to protect his identity, the Jackal seduces both men and women so that he’ll be able to avoid having to check into a hotel.  Whenever it appears that someone might be a security risk, the Jackal calmly kills them.  It’s all strictly business.

However, the French do know that the Jackal is in Paris and that he’s planning to kill the President.  In a plot twist that continues to be significant today, one of the terrorists has been captures and, after being brutally tortured, has revealed the plot.  Inspector Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) is tasked with tracking down the Jackal and preventing the assassination.

When I talk about how much I love old movies, I’m talking about films like The Day of the Jackal, an unpretentious movie that achieve success not through flashy visual effects or overwhelmingly loud action scenes but instead by simply being a well-made film.  For the most part, director Fred Zinnemann takes a low-key, almost documentary approach to the film’s material.  Zinnemann establishes a pace that is deliberate but never boring.

The film also features two excellent lead performances.  With his coldly aristocratic features, Edward Fox is perfectly cast as the nameless assassin.  You not only believe that he could kill someone but you also believe that he could get away with it.  He’s a thoroughly believable killer and it’s hard not to be impressed by just how good he is at being the bad guy.  The Jackal’s sleek professionalism and charisma is contrasted with the gray and rather shabby middle-aged men who are trying to stop him.  As played by Michael Lonsdale, Inspector Lebel is initially a rather underwhelming figure but, as the film progresses, his own strength is gradually revealed until he becomes a worthy adversary of the Jackal.

Finally, I should mention that the film ends with a little coda that is pure perfection.  I’m not going to ruin it by revealing it here but it’s worth watching the entire film just for that final line.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive

2 responses to “44 Days of Paranoia #37: The Day of the Jackal (dir by Fred Zinnemann)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Reviews an Oscar Winner: The Sting (dir by George Roy Hill) | Through the Shattered Lens

  2. Pingback: A Movie A Day #127: Brass Target (1978, directed by John Hough) | Through the Shattered Lens

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