Saturday, August 25, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—The Day of the Jackal (1973) ***

PG, 143 min.
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Writers: Kenneth Ross, Frederick Forsyth (novel)
Starring: Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, Alan Badel, Derek Jacobi, Olga Georges-Picot, Delphine Seyrig, Cyril Cusack, Ronald Pickup, Jean Martin, Denis Carey, Terence Alexander, Jacques François

The 1973 spy classic “The Day of the Jackal”, with its efficiency of storytelling, proves that something has gone wrong with the spy thrillers of today. I couldn’t help thinking about the recent theatrical release “The Bourne Legacy” as I watched the first 40 minutes of “Jackal”, based on the book by Frederick Forsyth.

Director Fred Zinnemann doesn’t rely on dialogue to shuffle the audience through an elaborate explanation of the plot. Instead he shows it to us with very little explanation. He treats the audience as if it has intelligence of its own to figure it out. In doing so, the plot isn’t needlessly weighed down with confusing dialogue about shadowy government groups and wordy technical jargon.

Essentially, the plot of “Jackal” is hardly different than any of the Bourne movies. It’s about a mysterious agent avoiding detection by the government forces that are trying to find him. I suppose the roles are switched here, in that the government agents trying to find the Jackal and stop his assassination plot against French president De Gaulle are the good guys and the assassin known as the Jackal is the villain, but the Jackal is still the protagonist. It’s his story, not theirs. They pursue him.

Edward Fox in many ways makes a more believable super spy, in that he doesn’t make a flashy show of himself. He blends in. The government agents aren’t about covering things up, but about doing the somewhat tedious job of finding a wolf hiding in sheep’s clothing. I would say the movie runs a little long, as seems to be the temptation with the espionage genre. But, it’s brisk and efficient. There’s never a question of what’s going on. And, without the knowledge of history, it would be hard to predict how it would end.

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