The Day of the Jackal: A Film That Does Justice To The Book

My  second film review. This one is about the Fred Zinnemann film THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, based on the best-selling thriller by former SIS agent and renowned writer Frederick Forsyth. Let’s jump straight into it.

THE DAY OF THE JACKAL is based in the early 1960s and revolves around a fictitious plot to assassinate then President of France, General Charles de Gaulle. The book and the film differ in terms of plot points very slightly but I will not be highlighting those. The idea of assassinating de Gaulle is that of the idealist terrorist organisation, the OAS. The reason: Independence of Algeria, which was granted by de Gaulle in 1962. The film  opens with an assassination attempt on de Gaulle’s life on August 22nd, 1962. The chief conspirator, Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Marie Bastien-Thiry, is executed seven months later. Jump to July 1962. The OAS are at their wits’ and cash reserves’ end but de Gaulle is still alive. Enter ‘The Jackal’, a suave gun-for-hire, who demands half a million dollars to put a full stop on the life of de Gaulle. OAS Chief Rodin’s adjutant Wolenski (Kowalski in the book) is captured and interrogated. He sings before dying. The French find out about the plot and Deputy Commissioner Claude Lebel is granted emergency powers and conducts a full investigation with complete secrecy. Once Lebel starts to pursue The Jackal, he realises that the assassin is always a step ahead of him and figures that there is a leak from within the circle of people who are aware of the plot. How Lebel plugs the leak and catches the Jackal forms the rest of the story.

  1. DIRECTION: Fred Zinnemann is at the helm of the adaptation and does his job well. I confess to not having watched a single film of his before and therefore, cannot comment as to the variations in his direction. All in all, he does a good job.
  2. STORY: The book, despite being slow in pace, was amazing and one just couldn’t put it down. Frederick Forsyth keeps the reader engaged in the book. It was so good that I can very well understand how it helped Forsyth overcome all of his debts! There are deviations from the plot and from a personal point of view, I did not appreciate them as they would have only added to the movie in many ways. There were some parts of the screenplay, especially Liberation Day and the opening sequence, that could have and should have been shortened to make for a better film.
  3. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Lensman Jean Tournier does a fabulous job. His manner of capturing the European scenery in parts of the film and France in the others is truly delightful. Liberation Day is perhaps the best captured sequence in the film.
  4. EDITING: While there is a sense of fluidity throughout the film, Ralph Kemplan could very well have edited out some of the longer unnecessary shots.
  5. DIALOGUE: The dialogue suits the film and is delivered well. The Frenchmen all speak English with an accent and the Englishmen stay true to theirs. The only distinct problematic dialogue delivery was that of Alan Badel, who failed to nail the hint of French in his English, which was perfectly English.
  6. PERFORMANCES: Michael Lonsdale does a fabulous job as Claude Lebel, the underrated and silent detective. He portrays the character to near perfection. Derek Jacobi, as Lebel’s assistant, is a delight to watch. Cyril Cusack is admirable as the Gunsmith and Ronald Pickup delivers in his brief role as the slimy forger. Olga Georges-Picot and Delphine Seyrig deserve ‘Scout Claps’ for their performances. Adrien Cayla-Legrand doesn’t say a single word but looks like a clone of General de Gaulle. Edward Fox is the showstopper as ‘The Jackal’. He is the best of the entire cast and is completely believable as the cold-blooded assassin he portrays.

Watch the film only if you enjoyed the book. It takes its own turns at times but stay true to the book for the majority of its 144 minutes.

Rating: 8/10

Fun Fact: The writer of this blog shares his birthday with General Charles de Gaulle. The General is exactly a hundred and nine years older.


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