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The Day of the Jackal

(1973, Zinnemann)
A freebie

"In this work, you simply can't afford to be emotional. That's why you've made so many mistakes."

That's the advice that the assassin codenamed The Jackal (Edward Fox) gives to his potential clients. They want to hire him to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle after one failed attempt from their part, and the Jackal is more than willing to oblige; for the right price, of course.

The Day of the Jackal follows the meticulous attempts of the assassin to achieve his task, and he goes at it with careful planning, a lot of patience, and no emotion. Meanwhile, law enforcement makes numerous attempts to locate him and stop him. The main efforts are led by skilled investigator Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), who has a similarly meticulous and careful approach to his work.

Much like the Jackal himself, there is a cold and distant approach to the film from director Fred Zinnemann, but for the most part it works. Like a great procedural, we see the contrast between the Jackal and Lebel as each one tries to outsmart the other. But the focus is on the Jackal all the way (for contrast, Lebel is introduced around the 50 minute mark, which is halfway through the film), as we see the extent of his skills. I don't think I'm alone, but in a weird way, we want to see him succeed.

There are a lot of twists and turns as the Jackal evades the police, some of them are pretty cool and surprising, a few of them not so much? But through it all we see his focus on the mission and his lack of care for other human beings. The coldness with which he disposes of everyone or anyone that threatens the mission is excellently portrayed by Fox. As for the technical aspects, they are mostly top notch. Zinnemann's direction is tight and tense, and the editing is superb.

In the end, I'm a bit conflicted. Even though I greatly appreciate the "bare bones", emotionless approach of Zinnemann, part of me wishes that Lebel was a bit more fleshed out, or that the climax and ending wasn't as abrupt as it is. On the other hand, I remember other similar thrillers that try to make more out of something and fail by adding too many variables, too many emotions. Maybe that's why they make so many mistakes.