The Day of the Jackal

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Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: John Woolf
Co-Producer: Julien Derode and David Deutsch
Script:   Kenneth Ross
   From the novel by Frederick Forsyth
Cinematographer: Jean Tournier
Editing:   Ralph Kemplen


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Stripped down, this is ultra-smooth thriller from Frederic Forsyth's best seller about a plot to assassinate French President Charles De Gaulle in the wake of the Algerian War directed with skill and consummate professionalism by Fred Zinnemann. From its opening scenes, it is clear that this film will hold out to the end and even though the outcome is inevitable given the historical circumstances and situations upon which it is based Fox does so well you end up thinking hes really going to kill him.


Assisted by Kenneth Ross' marvellously basic screenplay, Zinnemann follows the oldest code of film making in the book and simply shoots what we need to see for the advancement of the story. Though over two hours in length, the film is terrifically paced and fast moving, an account of detail which often seems to resemble a documentary in its determination not to linger on the faces of actors for the registration of emotion any longer than is necessary to establish the basic conflicts required to move on to the next shot.


In fact it is so clinically executed that many critics have derided its lack of psychology. This is somewhat unfair, as one of its great strengths as a thriller is the subtlety with which it portrays the world, on one hand of a cold but subtly arrogant young hit man (Edward Fox), and on the other the high pressure world of his main pursuer (Michel Lonsdale). Each man rises to his challenges with a combination of professionalism and not undue concern, and each actor gives a minimalist performance to match. They register just enough character beyond the stone-faced exteriors both are presumed to have to engage the audience in a delicate psychological exploration which complements and underlies the intensity of the fast-moving and pared down narrative. Indeed, it is precisely this which allows the film's abrupt climax to work, as the moment of surprise on Fox's face when he misses his target.


The story is full of vignettes and characters who appear and disappear very quickly. Rather than a weakness, this turns out to be a positive dimension, because it increases the sense of scale and provides quiet and simple insights which serve the plot nonetheless. Rather than dwelling on the personal conflicts and crises of so many officials and lowlifes respectively, we are treated to an almost first person perspective on a level of society most of us would have no contact with anyway and thus rightly seems alienating and aloof for the most part. We mainly follow the killer and cop in the manner of the classics of the genre, and the world unfolds as naturally as it should.


The Day of the Jackal is interesting on many levels, though it makes no claims to profundity. It documents a moment in history which captures the currents of social dissent, charts the moral and spiritual decadence and emptiness of a number of people who live in it, and explores the machinery of the state and law enforcement which seeks to control it all and which is often as morally corrupt as those it nominally stands above.










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The day of the jackal