In 1971 British novelist Frederick Forsyth wrote a stunning debut novel that became an instant classic. Two years later it was adapted into a film by acclaimed director Fred Zinnemann. Arrow Video has brought the film to Blu-Ray and I was lucky enough to receive a copy before it was released. I had interest in the film because I had read the novel two years earlier. The Day of the Jackal has long been considered one of the finest and most realistic political thrillers ever written. It was loosely adapted again with Bruce Willis as The Jackal in 1997, but the Zinnemann film adheres much more closely to the novel.
The film begins with a re-enactment of the failed assassination attempt that was made on Charles De Gaulle in 1963. It then spins its realistic web of a tale. De Gaulle was not in high favor in France in 1963 due to his liberation of Algiers. A contingent of the military formed a group known as OAS with the hope of performing a coup to remove De Gaulle. In the Hotel Garibaldi the four key commanders of the OAS form a plan to assassinate the president. They decide that the only way in which the goal may be accomplished is to hire an assassin from another country and keep it between the four gentlemen in the room only. They settle on a British assassin (Edward Fox) that asks for $500,000 in order to perform the job: $250,000 up front and $250,000 upon completion deposited in his Swiss bank account. When the commanders accept his terms, the assassin chooses the code name of The Jackal. The Jackal is meticulous in his planning and immediately sets to work on assuming identities and crafting an untraceable rifle. While he works on his plan to assassinate De Gaulle, the OAS rob some banks to fund the assassination. This raises some red flags and the French and British authorities begin to work together to foil the attempt, but all they have to go on is the code name of The Jackal. In France a particularly brilliant detective named Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) works day and night to figure out how the Jackal will strike.
This film is almost a perfect adaptation of the novel. Zinnemann and screenwriter Kenneth Ross take tremendous care to bring the novel to life. This is no easy novel. It is easily one of the most intricate thriller plots that I can recall reading and is not a short novel. They somehow managed to fit every major plot point into the film in just under two and a half hours. Zinnemann shot the film in a very realistic way that almost feels like a documentary. The cinematography by Jean Tournier fits the film well and reminded me a little of his work on Frankenheimer’s film The Train. All said and done, the achievement of putting all of the plot points together in the film in a cohesive way is an achievement.
Edward Fox who plays the Jackal gives a good and convincing performance. My only quibble is that Fox does not seem quite as menacing or ruthless as I had pictured the Jackal when I read the book. It is still a well-crafted performance. Michael Lonsdale is enjoyable as the beleaguered detective Lebel.
This is a slow-moving but brilliantly crafted political thriller that does the novel justice. Fans of the novel will enjoy seeing the film version adhere so closely to the material. Recommended.
Video: How’s it look?
This new transfer from Arrow Video uses an MPEG-4 AVC encoding of the film in 1.85:1. This film looks good, but it did not look like the master used for the transfer was a new master. There is a fine level of grain that sometimes borders on over saturated and there are moments where I saw some crush enter into the picture. That said, this is a long film, so I can understand how it could have the occasional spot that looks weak. Overall fans will be pleased to see it on the new format, but they need to temper their expectations on how they expect it to look.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Arrow Video have provided a good-quality LPCM Mono track. This track is interesting because it is a very quiet film. The score by George Delerue is hardly used in the film which lends to the realistic nature of the film. The dialogue is clear and I did not detect any issues overall. As long as your expectations are set to the tone of the film, which is not particularly immersive, you should be pleased.
Supplements: What are the extras?
In the marksman’s eye – this new interview with Neil Sinyard, author of Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience goes into great detail about Zinnemann’s motivations for making the film and where it stands in his filmography. This is a well conducted interview with a great amount of information.
Location Report – archival behind-the-scenes footage from 1972 that was shot in Paris.
Fred Zinnemann Interview – a short archival interview with Zinnemann and some behind-the-scenes footage.
Original screenplay – by Kenneth Ross (BD-ROM content)
The Bottom Line
The Day of the Jackal is a perfect adaptation of the novel of the same name. It delivers a well-crafted political thriller that holds up well forty-five years later (despite moving slower than films of this generation.) Arrow Video have provided a good looking (though not incredible) transfer and some interesting supplemental material. Recommended.