The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal ★★★★

"We are not terrorists, you understand. We are patriots. --Colonel Rodin

"Anyway, not guilty, your honor." --Many, many Parler users, probably

I cannot even tell you how refreshing it it to see serious people try to overthrow a democratically elected government. I mean, any dipshit with a Facebook account, a decent roll for charisma and a line of bullshit that makes the reason the rubes don't have 77-inch 4K OLED televisions and a set of 14-caret gold plated TruckNutz for the '06 Dodge Ram all het up to do some damage on a vacation day trip. But serious people with serious goals hire professionals. I wouldn't hire TruckNutz69 from Twitter to rotate my tires, I sure as hell wouldn't base my half-baked revolution on him, or his ilk.

Jesus, I'm already going off the rails, here. It's 1962, and a terrorist organization has their panties in a bunch about France recognizing Algerian independence. Their own efforts to whack the president are sloppy and botched, as it turns out that barely-trained, second-rate true believers with vanity commando gear are pretty useless no matter the decade. So the leaders of the attempted overthrow decide to hire a professional, one who knows the difference between a luxury hotel and a landscaping company, and who knows what hair dyes don't melt under lights hotter than a child's Hello Kitty nightmare stopper.

The professional, the eponymous Jackal, undertakes preparations to do the job, including having fake IDs made, and a custom concealable rifle to eventually make his shot. Meanwhile, the French government puts the arm on one of the top terrorist leaders, and after some spirited questioning under Jack (Bauer's) Rules of Order, learns of the existence of the Jackal, put their best detective on the trail, to try to identify and stop him before he can turn de Gaulle's head into the GIF from Scanners.

That's it. That's the movie. One clever, relentless, methodical white guy against another clever, relentless, methodical white guy who happens to have a staff to help out. There are no great action scenes, no big gunfights, just two confident pros, making moves and countermoves. It should be boring as hell.

But it's not. This is one of those stories that's mostly plot. We know next to nothing about Jackal or Detective Lebel beyond what I've already written. They have no arcs, only whether they succeed or fail. And by their being so similar, in their own ways, it means that it's difficult to tell who you're really pulling for to come out on top. So the plot needs to be damned tight to keep things moving, and to keep us interested, for nearly two and a half hours.

But it is. Screenwriter Kenneth Ross, and presumably the author of the original novel it's based on, Frederick Forsyth, do a spectacular job in first writing Jackal into a corner and making him find a way out, and then doing the same to Lebel. The whole movie is a constant back and forth, cat and mouse, as over and over again, Lebel closes in, and Jackal slips the noose, getting closer to the target.

As a sidenote, I gotta say, it's refreshing to see a movie like this, that is such a product of its time. You couldn't make this in 2021, or at least, it would have to be very different. Every scene of flatfeet manually collecting hotel registration cards by hand would have to be replaced with scenes of Jackal throwing out SIM cards. Every scene of cops manually transcribing surveillance recordings would be replaced with scenes of Jackal chatting up filthy hippies instead of rich, bored, aristocratic wives, because only rotten hostels would take cash. The movie would becomes very one-sided and less compelling, because watching cops run SQL queries is fucking boring. But I'm losing the thread again.

But before I pick it back up, another reason you couldn't remake this today is because the studio would demand that it be shot in Vancouver or Atlanta for the tax break, instead of Paris. Beyond the accents, which no one even tries to make French, this flick oozes French atmosphere the way you only get with mostly location shooting. It's not particularly flashy photography, but it is authentic, and that helps a lot.

And man, what an ending, huh? Not just the rising tension of Jackal moving into place as events of the award presentation put de Gaulle into harm's way, but the role that blind, animal luck plays in both Lebel's and Jackal's conclusion... and the reveal that Jackal was never who Lebel thought he was, implying that he, and by extension, others, just exist. Nameless, faceless, relentless professionals, who can bubble up from nowhere and send the world into political chaos.

You hearing me, TruckNutz69? Nameless and faceless. Dudes jacked up on InfoWars™ brand testosterone boosters don't break tradecraft, they don't post selfies with the EXIF data intact, and most importantly, they don't upset the body politic. Now shut the fuck up, and don't misspell my vanity license plate when you press it.

The Day of the Jackal was worth the wait, and turned out to be the right movie at the right time for me.

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