VOD film review: Carlos the Jackal
Selina Pearson | On 16, Oct 2016
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Edgar Ramirez, Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstatten, Ahmad Kaabour
Watch Carlos the Jackal online in the UK: MUBI UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
The culmination of an ambitious project to bring to the screen an extensive biopic of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal, this 138-minute epic involves an international cast and features locations from London to Budapest. It’s also, in its original form, five and a half hours long.
The vision of French director Olivier Assayas, Carlos was first broadcast as a three-part mini-series on French TV before being edited down for international release. Born in Venezuela to Marxists, Carlos (Ramirez) achieves a smidgen of notoriety during Black September; he journeys to Beirut to persuade Haddad (Kaabour) of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to take him on. He begins by targeting those with Zionist leanings, as the film builds up to a sequence focussing on the PFLP hostage-taking of the Vienna OPEC meeting – an epic, exciting mid-point.
After losing the respect of his superiors in the PFLP, Carlos throws his lot in with other pro-socialist revolutionaries, notably the Germans in the Revolutionary Cells. We go on to follow Carlos as he moves from country to country, woman to woman and terrorist target to terrorist target.
Having seen it in its five-hour entirety, it is difficult not to compare Carlos to the recent two-part French-made gangster biopic Mesrine, starring Vincent Cassel. Here, Edgar Ramirez shoulders the burden of the eponymous protagonist admirably; his multilingual skills and charisma put him in a class of his own. The rest of the cast are also outstanding, but there are so many of them and the runtime is so long that they’re hard to keep track of. The condensed theatrical cut, though, goes some way to combatting that.
The vast scope of the project is a testament to its writer’s interest in its subject matter. Spanning 22 years, Carlos has been intently researched. Although the writers concede that many of the conversations are dramatised, and that many of the incidents with which the Jackal had been linked are still under investigation, the result is an impressive and engrossing biopic. (The original five-part box set is available for binge-watching from iTunes.)
Carlos the Jackal is available on MUBI UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription, from 21st October until 20th November 2019.