The Day of the Jackal

The Day of the Jackal ★★★★★

When I was a kid The Day of the Jackal was one of my favourite films. I could not count the amount of times I watched the old VHS copy we had in the house. Endlessly. I loved everything about it; the slow, rigorous pacing, the hints of politics and grotesque infighting of the French, the procedural aspects of the plot, following a criminal rather than the police, but managing to encompass them as well. It almost certainly had the first nudity I saw on screen, as well...

As an adult, I think The Day of the Jackal stands up remarkably well. It is even slower than I remembered it being. As we are introduced to the OAS, the number of scenes with the English police and secret services; I had forgotten quite how intricate the scenes with Michael Lonsdale were, how wonderful Cyril Cusack plays the gunsmith, never mind the exquisite cameo by Delphine Seyrig.

Seyrig's character seems to have bounded out of an Anita Brookner novel straight into this film, a melancholic, married but single beautiful woman, who is spending her aristocratic time in Europe waiting for something to happen. Her performance and her mistaken feeling for Edward Fox's Jackal is a wonderful interlude.

The Day of the Jackal is Edward Fox's film. Fox plays his assassin with a cold charm, he simmers with violence, standing absolute straight to the very limit of his short height. This how James Bond should be played and it is how the next Bond should be filmed. Procedural, cold, almost documentary-like. Fox has an aristocratic look, but Fred Zinnemann allows him show a lot of steel. As Fox flicks between disguises for the film, never overplaying them, his performance shifts slightly taking care to show another aspect of his talent, but not at the expense of the film. It is superb performance.

Fred Zinnemann was a very fine director. High Noon, The Men, From Here to Eternity and A Man for All Seasons, among his finest films, but little in his filmography would suggest this rigorous action film. However, it being a 1970s action picture, it is very slow, deliberate and only rarely punctuated with violence. Zinnemann cranks up the tension, even though everyone in the audience knows what the ending is going to be.

The Day of the Jackal doesn't feel like Zinnemann film, however he directs with a craftsman's precision. It is great Hollywood studio work.

The Day of the Jackal remains a wonderful film. It remains a perfect thriller. It remains the way James Bond should be put on screen. It remains exciting, intriguing and fascinating. It confirms I had pretty good taste as a kid. Arguably better than now.

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