The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal ★★★★½

The 'police procedural' storyline is one that has been used in TV, film and literature, and even theatre, for many decades. But the 'criminal procedural' idea is one that, for me, has infinitely more possibilities. After all, there are many different ways of committing a crime than there are of solving one - and of course, many more crimes!

The Day Of The Jackal is certainly one of the very best examples of both storylines that you will ever see, excelling especially at the latter. Adapted from a Frederick Forsyth novel and following a fictional plot to kill French president Charles de Gaulle, a French terrorist faction decides to secretly hire an outsider to do the job after failing to keep leaks from its own people under wraps during a previous attempt.

Edward Fox would probably not be your first choice for the job, but he convinces you as soon as he meets his prospective employers that he is the man for the job. His relentlessly detailed preparation for his crime, which he takes in excess of 2 months over, is quite remarkably paced and extremely patient and does the remarkable thing of taking a whole host of relatively un-thrilling events and making them seem extremely taut.

It's a trick that All The President's Men also managed brilliantly and it really does show that to create an effective thriller you really do not have to have manufactured scenes of peril. You can ratchet up tension by quietly building towards a meaningful climax and being left genuinely wondering how this will turn out. The film helps itself in other ways, too.

Fox as the cool, calm and collected gentleman who knows exactly how he is going to commit the crime is by no means portrayed as being infallible. He makes the occasional mistake and is forced into making decisions he doesn't want to make, giving the film an air of unpredictability at times that it really does need. He is absolutely terrific here, as is Michael Lonsdale as the admired detective who sets after him. Lonsdale is best known as Dax in Moonraker but he has always been a fine actor, with this arguably being his finest achievement.

The pacing of The Day Of The Jackal means that it is never likely to have the pulse racing, plus the final confrontation is one that relies a little bit too much on luck for my liking and could really have been done better. But this is a really tremendous and slow-building thriller that thoroughly deserves its lingering reputation as one of the best films of its type of the 1970s.

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews