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Film review: 'The Jackal'

7 November 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Movie remakes can be a lot of fun, especially if they're based on a good movie and if they're updated with skill and vigor. Neither is the case with Universal's "The Jackal", based on the 1973 thriller "Day of the Jackal", a dull, exposition-heavy, assassin story based on Frederick Forsyth's best seller.

Starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, "Jackal" is a movie muddle of glutted exposition, cluttered punctuation and suspenseless storytelling. Scope a winning first weekend for this overcalculated, cold-blooded cutout, then watch it twitch and shake on the circuit when negative word-of-mouth kicks in.

In this update, Willis stars as the Jackal, a sadistic iceman who takes $70 million in cold cash from a Russian crime lord to Knock Off a top U.S. government official. Ever vigilant, the FBI gets wind of this deadly plan through its deputy director (Sidney Poitier), who is stationed in Moscow. But no one in official intelligence has much of a clue about the identity, whereabouts, M.O. or habits of the elusive killer.

What to do? Get a real pro involved on the good guys' team. That means enlisting the services of one wily chap named Declan Mulqueen (Gere). A former Irish "soldier" who is in deep lock in the United States, he has first-hand knowledge of the Jackal gained during Mulqueen's tenure sharpshooting Brits in that sorry calamity going on over there.

Essentially, it's a race against time, with the narrative dividing its time between the Jackal's preparation for his big kill and the FBI and Mulqueen's trying to track down his whereabouts. The more interesting side of the story is, by far, the Jackal's procurement of weaponry and false identities -- it has a certain James Bond-ish flair. As in many stories of this ilk, guns and weaponry are treated with noticeable reverence -- the assemblage, the mounting and the testing. Such deference is further glorified by the Jackal's insouciant, sociopathic professionalism. Scenes of sadistic savagery are double-edged: On one side, the Jackal's casual cruelty is cinematically seductive in an immature, Tarantino-esque way; on the other side, his odious actions certainly establish a deplorable villain for the grand-finale, man-on-man confrontation.

Meanwhile, back with the FBI and Mulqueen, it's meetings, discussions, observations, meetings, arguments and expositions -- all carried out in dull, gray rooms or over stale office coffee. Usually, one would have to attend a year's worth of city council meetings to experience such tedium. While the narrative's smallest details are compulsively tidied up (as one gray suit natters to another), the overall story is often at the mercy of preposterous happenstances and unbelievable coincidences. Overall, screenwriter Chuck Pfarrer's exposition is, in monetary terms, Penny Wise and pound foolish. Worse, the dialogue is just plain dull and way too thick.

Much has been ballyhooed about Bruce Willis doing an acting stretch in this enterprise. That's true in the sense that he plays a guy who shoots good people instead of a guy who shoots bad people; one could label that growth. Fortunately, for those of us who get a kick out of his screen stuff, Willis gives it the same old cheek-chic. He's aloof, cerebral and oh-so-above it all. Sartorially, however, Willis is much more venturesome, sporting a wide range of toupee disguises that were definitely not supplied by Marv Albert's stylist.

In the same splashy way, Gere gets to flash an Irish accent. This, of course, will set him up for derision by the cognoscenti, but it worked for me and will probably play for other clodhopper-type viewers. On the downside, Gere's benign countenance and placid gaze do not exactly conjure up an intractable, single-minded sniper-type; where's the ice? Stepping to the front of the gray backdrop of characters, however, is Poitier. As a career G-Man, Poitier's close-to-the-vest character is shaded with some fine personality fabrics.

Unfortunately, Michael Caton-Jones' direction is completely in sync with the writing. Visually, "The Jackal" is duller than a public works project. Its monotonously grim hues, humdrum framings, predictable cadence and mechanical-sounding music all suck the life out of this Byzantine bewilderment.

Technically, we're a bit stymied to single out excellencies. Nonetheless, with the story seemingly cutting every two minutes to another international location, it's obvious the film commissioners and location scouts have done yeoman duties. From Virginia to Moscow, we are treated to an eyeful of locales. Unfortunately, there's not great variety among airport lounges or meeting rooms, no matter where they're located. Except for a glorious sail into Chicago, this stock story could have been done with stock footage and location subtitles.


Universal Pictures

Producers: James Jacks, Sean Daniel,

Michael Caton-Jones, Kevin Jarre

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Screenwriter: Chuck Pfarrer

Based on the motion picture screenplay "The Day of the Jackal" by: Kenneth Ross

Executive producers: Terence Clegg,

Hal Lieberman, Gary Levinsohn, Mark Gordon

Director of photography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub

Production designer: Michael White

Editor: Jim Clark

Costume designer: Albert Wolsky

Music: Carter Burwell

Casting: Ellen Chenoweth

Sound mixer: David John



The Jackal: Bruce Willis

Declan Mulqueen: Richard Gere

Preston: Sidney Poitier

Valentina Koslova: Diane Venora

Isabella: Mathilda May

Witherspoon: J.K. Simmons

McMurphy: Richard Lineback

Donald Brown: John Cunningham

Lamont: Jack Black

The First Lady: Tess Harper

Running time -- 119 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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