"Hey, let's go see that new Bruce Willis movie that's based on some long-lost 70's flick!" That's the most recognition given to 1973's "The Day of the Jackal" in the last twelve years or so. Sad, partly because 1997's modern re-working, titled "The Jackal", is such an awful effort and also because Fred Zinneman's original is so good. It deserves much better- a political thriller that intrigues, a police procedural that's smart, and an all around breathless pace that ignites from the film's opening scenes. It's to the film's credit that, even though the history of General de Gaulle's life was already written, "The Day of the Jackal" still manages to mount surprising tension out of it's fact/fiction blending of real and imaginary people.
A classic cat and mouse game in the finest sense of the genre, the film pits Edward Fox as the invisible assassin against Michel Lonsdale's determined police lieutenant charged with finding and stopping the hired gun nick-named The Jackal. While the film places the Jackal in the sights of his target for a relatively few brief moments, the majority of its plot details the intelligent maneuvers of killer to sneak into the country (then stay there), while police doggedly track his every move (numerous passport changes, hair colorings and car switches).It's all handled in grand fashion as Zinneman highlights dialogue and logistics over dynamic action and visual flair (which causes some people to hail the film as boring). Like all the best "procedural" films which I"m a sucker for, "The Day of the Jackal" excels in its intelligence rather than flash. Both sides- police and assassin- are shown in almost ritualistic manners. The quiet determination that each party exudes, whether its the Jackal haggling over the price of a falsified passport or the detective's orderly round table meetings with the political cabinet, is given equal weight. One can sense if either one (good or bad) screws up even one iota, then the whole carefully orchestrated house of cards will fold in on itself.
Then there's the performances of Edward Fox and Lonsdale, both seemingly crafted from the same cloth. As the cool assassin, Fox is dapper and calculating. Lonsdale, pulling off another performance where he seems to melt into the fabric of the film, is organized and focused. And thinking back on his role in "Munich", is there a cooler father-son on screen duo than Lonsdale and Mathieu Amalric? I'm not sure how well this film has retained its reputation today, but it definitely deserves another shot from cinephiles.