The Day of the Jackal

Studio: Arrow Video

Oct 03, 2018 Bookmark and Share

Forced into hiding and with their ranks gutted by the firing squad following a failed assassination attempt on French President Charles de Gaulle, the leaders of the OAS – a domestic terrorist group retaliating against France’s liberation of the former Algerian colony – are at the end of their rope. Their ranks infiltrated by police informants, they have no hope of accomplishing their vile act with anyone from within their own network. And so, they hire a foreigner – a handsome, fair-haired gentleman known only as “The Jackal” – to carry out their public execution of the President.

The Jackal is cool, calm, collected – like a James Bond who works exclusively for the bad guys. He uses his intelligence, quick wit and potent charisma to achieve his goals through any means necessary. He’s good-looking, charming, and entirely unshakeable; whenever he’s on screen, there’s never a sense that he’s anything less than the smartest character in the room. Few villains are as dangerous and scary, yet undeniably compelling, as this mysterious hired gunman.  

It’s a fair indication that the filmmakers behind The Day of the Jackal were well aware of this, as the eventual hero of the film doesn’t make his first appearance until nearly a quarter of the way into the film. Noticing that the surviving OAS leaders have remained suspiciously quiet, French authorities rightly assume they’re up to something; by torturing one of their underlings, they come up with only the codename “Jackal.” Investigator Claude Lebel is handpicked to find a man with no name and no face, guilty of a crime that hasn’t happened yet. It’s a near-impossible task, yet the fate of his nation’s leader hangs in the balance.

The Day of the Jackal was released in 1973, adapted from the bestselling novel by Frederick Forsyth and directed by Fred Zinnemann, the veteran filmmaker with such esteemed features as High Noon, From Here to Eternity, Oklahoma!, and Best Picture winner A Man for All Seasons under his belt. This may very well be the most intricately-woven and finely-executed suspense film ever crafted.

The story follows two simultaneous procedural paths: The Jackal’s fastidious preparation for his assassination attempt on de Gaulle, and Lebel’s desperate investigation into the criminal’s identity and whereabouts. The Day of the Jackal is a long, slow boil – it plays out over nearly two-and-a-half hours – but never boring; with each passing scene, either the detective or the assassin gain ever more footing towards accomplishing their individual mission. It’s extremely interesting to follow as it unfolds, as it’s hard not to have a rooting interest for both men: Lebel, naturally, to save the day, but also The Jackal because it’s just so hard not to admire someone so incredibly skilled in their work, even when it’s a heinous occupation. It’s a film that adroitly doles out carefully-measured revelations from the beginning to the very end, remaining highly tense throughout and utterly compelling – never mind the fact that most viewers will know how the story ends before it even gets going. (De Gaulle, of course, didn’t die by an assassin’s bullet in the 1960s.)

Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray special edition has a very high-quality transfer and a host of nice bonus features. The chief pieces are archival, including a vintage behind-the-scenes reel and a short interview with Zinnemann from 1972. The longest piece is an interview with writer Neil Sinyard, author of a Zinnemann biography, who provides nice insight into the filmmaker’s life with some good context for this point in his career. All in all, The Day of the Jackal is a thriller which shouldn’t be missed – and this is as fine a way as any to see it.



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