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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973)

Fred Zinnemann’s plus perfect adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s novel (about the race to stop a hired hitman from killing French President de Gaulle) works in a methodical fashion, holding its pace where other filmmakers might charge ahead. It's a metronomic & economic design of plot points & pieces of information; mesmerizingly effective, the Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ of political assassination thrillers. Edward Fox, as the Jackal; Michael Lonsdale as the detail-obsessed French detective; and Cyril Cusack as an Italian gunsmith are just stand-outs in the eye-popping cast list, and Zinnemann's insistence on taking the long dramatic view gives off a satisfying sense of occasion; as if plush, handsome, civilized entertainments were still possible, still worth doing. The finale, which was largely shot in the middle of the French Liberation Day Parade in Paris, is particularly stunning, but the whole film is a knock-out. (And fun to compare with the current crop of chop-happy, slice-&-dice hyper-edited thrillers.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Like Anthony Mann’s excellent low-budget assassination thriller, THE TALL TARGET/’51, about an attempt on the life of President-Elect Lincoln, JACKAL pulls off its suspense without a lick of underscoring.

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