Based on the 1971 novel of the same name DAY OF THE JACKAL was a movie that took suspense on a different route than most movies. Rather than having a top notch secret agent using suave moves and terrific gadgets to find a hidden assassin it played it straight instead opting for a more realistic approach. Our hero looks more like an honest to goodness government investigator instead and employs the methods one would really use rather than flying cars. The end result is a magnificent movie from director Fred Zinnemann.
The story takes place in 1962 after an attempt has been made on the life of President Charles De Gaulle in France. The attempt was made by the OAS or Organisation armée secrete, a paramilitary group that formed shortly after the Algerian War that considered De Gaulle a traitor after granting independence to Algeria. When the attack fails they realize they need to bring in a specialists from outside of their organization.
The professional assassin (Edward Fox) agrees to take on the job at a cost of $500,000 US dollars. He takes on the code name “The Jackal” and things move forward. To pay for the assassination the OAS members stage a series of robberies. In the meantime the Jackal sets about trying to find the proper tools he will need to carry out his mission.
While this is taking place the French security forces are doing their best to find out what the OAS has planned next and to take down the organization. Kidnapping the OAS’ chief clerk he dies under interrogation but not before providing them the smallest of information including the word “jackal”. The Interior Minister pulls together a secret cabinet meeting and at the advice of his police chief assigns Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel (Michel Lonsdale) to head up the investigation.
The film then moves back and forth between the two men as one plots to kill the President of France and the other does what he can to prevent it. The Jackal gets fake documents to get him past security and helps with the design of a special gun to use to pull off the job. It’s lightweight and fits inside a series of tubes that can be changed to look like a pair of crutches.
Lebel follows up all leads at his disposal and eventually comes up with the real name and identity of the Jackal. Contacting his counterparts in England. It’s in their best interests as well to find the man as the death of a foreign dignitary at the hands of one of their own would reflect poorly on the country.
As the Jackal moves forward with his plans he takes shelter in the most unlikely of places, avoiding hotels and residing in the homes of those he meets on his journey. He leaves behind him a trail of bodies but no way to connect each of them.
As the clues connect Lebel becomes certain of the day that the Jackal will make his attempt on De Gaulle. Refusing to change his schedule to accommodate the attempt on his life security forces work around the clock to finally find the killer and take him out before he can follow through with his plan. Only time will tell if he succeeds or fails.
The movie works on so many levels and shows why author Frederick Forsyth has always been able to spin a solid yarn. While so many thrillers have chosen to follow the path of James Bond his books and the films based on them have been more inclined to be set in realistic situations with real people instead. It makes them just as entertaining and in the long run more frightening as they seem more credible. The methods used by the Jackal here seem as if they could actually take place.
There isn’t a bad performance here and the choice to use lesser known actors in the lead roles works well for the film. Rather than seeing an all too familiar face the movie uses that to its advantage so that not only is the situation more believable but so are the characters. Remade years later as THE JACKAL that film starred Richard Gere and Bruce Willis and the name value diminished the story aspect of the film. At the time Fox had not really had a solid lead role in his resume and Lonsdale was more known in France than in worldwide films.
Arrow Films is releasing this in a wonderful package with the film being presented in hi def blu-ray. In addition to that they’ve packed the film with several extras that are sure to please fans of the film and those who’ve yet to view it for the first time. The extras here include a new interview with Neil Sinyard, the author of FRED ZINNEMAN: FILMS OF CHARACTER AND CONSCIENCE, two rare archival clips from the film set including an interview with Zinnemann, the theatrical trailer, the original screenplay (BD-ROM content), a reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain and for the first pressing only an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Mark Cunliffe and Sheldon Hall. Do I need to say it again? Arrow is doing an amazing job with every single offering they have.
If you’ve never seen the film I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is methodical in its approach and in the way it shows the plan that the Jackal has in store for this assassination. It entertains and at the same time inspires a slight amount of fear when you consider the possibilities of how an assassin might approach his target. This is a movie that can be enjoyed not just once but with repeated viewings. If nothing else make sure you do so at least once.