The Jackal

Oh how I wish I could have seen Kevin Jarre and Chuck Pfarrer work out the screenplay for THE JACKAL. They must have read the novel, or even worse, just watched the previous film version, and then thought, “Let’s focus most of the film on THE JACKAL! ” I haven’t read the book, but I know that it must have been better than this. THE JACKAL, which ripped its premise from a 1973 production of THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, is a film which wants to try something new, to show us the criminal’s mind work as he sets up for his next target.However, we have seen it before, and done much better (IN THE LINE OF FIRE). Unfortunately, the film focuses so much attention on The Jackal (Bruce Willis) that we begin to care for him more than the good guys. I must admit that I did like one of the heros, but she is left with a smaller part than all the male characters in the film. THE JACKAL opens promisingly, with a title sequence similar to that of SEVEN. In the background, we see some historical war scenes composed of poorly edited television broadcasts. The music, by Carter Burwell (FARGO, and others), is moody and well done.But once actors start appearing on screen, THE JACKAL doesn’t just slow to crawl… it comes to a halt. A glimmer of hope shines when Sidney Poitier arrives, but left with a small scrap of a role, that glimmer is snuffed out. Opening with a scene which is quickly forgotten, Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora, HEAT) and FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Poitier) try to arrest a Russian terrorist (I assume, as they never quite tell us). The Russian terrorist ends up dead, and as cliched as it might be, his brother wants revenge.The brother hires The Jackal to show America something they would never forget. The Jackal is assigned, with a $70 million price tag, to assassinate a high-ranking U. S. Government official. Who is it exactly? We aren’t sure, and we don’t find out until late in the film. This is supposedly added for suspenseful purposes, but instead, with the recent discoveries surrounding the certain official nowadays, we wish The Jackal would succeed and kill the official. But listening to the audience’s reaction, I guess most people will find this movie entertaining and fun.Well, it is fun, for a little while, and only at the end. So why has this big name cast signed on for this film? I’m not quite sure, with the exception of Bruce Willis who must have thought it would be fun to portray a bad guy. Luckily, Willis has so much fun that we begin to get involved in the film–but only with his character. THE JACKAL follows two different story lines, trying to draw an indistinct line between them. We are forced into watching a cat-and-mouse game, except from both sides. We see The Jackal setting up his project, and we also see Carter Preston trying to find The Jackal.My question is, how did Mr. Preston know The Jackal was planning something? Maybe they explained it to us, but if they did, I was probably trying to make sense of what occured just prior to that scene. Here is a movie which plays out with all the information exposed to the audience (with the exception of who is being targeted), while the characters are left in the dark for most of the film. Despite this, and ironically so, THE JACKAL remains one step ahead of us, making us think back, trying to clear up holes and messy dialogue from previous scenes.A lot of the dialogue is spoken with Russian or other accents, and we can’t quite tell what is being said. Many of these lines come from Richard Gere, who has an extremely distracting Irish accent. His lines come across as a slur of words, and the audience is left struggling to make sense of it. Gere does manage to get most of his lines across well, but some of the important ones are said so quietly, we can’t distinguish them. Thankfully, Gere doesn’t show up until the movie’s setup has been completed (but we are still confused). As the antagonist, Bruce Willis shows a terrific side to his acting talent.We have seen him play good guys in the DIE HARD series and TWELVE MONKEYS, but we have never quite seen him as sadistic as this. I found his performance to be hugely entertaining, and whenever the movie went back to the chase side, I was disappointed. Now, I’m not saying I like rooting for the bad guys, but when there are no good guys to cheer for, who else is there? Furthermore, The Jackal reminded me of Val Kilmer’s character in THE SAINT (which was actually worse than this film). His character kept changing appearances, showing Willis’ wide range of acting skill.As mentioned previously, I wish they could have found a better target for the film, because I had no emotional connection to the target themselves. Another reason for this is the physical resemblance of the two officials (in the film and in real life). Willis’ suave style gives a lot of depth to his good character, and therefore gives the most respectable performance. The only hero I was actually rooting for was Major Koslova (Venora). Her no-nonsense attitude is something most of the male figures needed in the film. Remarkably, the acting isn’t the worst thing in the film.The plot is, which is rather disgraceful to the premise. Setting up a premise with this much hope is one thing, but to shoot it down in the next hour and fourty-five minutes is another. I can’t recall another film in which I have actually noticed most of the plot holes while watching the movie. Usually I will discover them while thinking about it afterwards (and usually I will forgive the film for these if it was entertaining enough), but these were too obvious to not notice, and the film wasn’t very entertaining. How did The Jackal get the gun off of the boat? How did the protagonist find Declan Mulqueen (Gere)?Despite all these questions, the more obvious questions relate to the characters themselves. Who was the Russian terrorist? Who was his brother? What purpose did the homosexual have in the movie? Who were those hijackers? All questions, with little answers. Director Michael Caton-Jones has given us a very slow-paced action film, with little depth to pull us in. Jones admirably left a lot of blood out of the film, which so many action films like to show us. Normally I like to see the violence, but I have realized, with this film, that a lot of it isn’t necessary to witness.That isn’t saying there isn’t blood and gore, but it is a heck of a lot less than say, STARSHIP TROOPERS or THE PEACEMAKER. Unfortunately, Jones never finds the right tone or pace for the film to move along. We are left wanting more… of anything, in fact. More violence could have even helped. More action would have been nice. Even though this is a suspense/action film, put more coherent action scenes in. It’s hard to believe that this is the director who gave us that beautifully orchestrated sword fight in ROB ROY. THE JACKAL is rated R for strong violence and language.In fact, the language was extremely disturbing from the very start. Normally language doesn’t disturb me in a film, but THE JACKAL’s constant use of it in the first ten minutes caught me off guard. Perhaps the reason I was disturbed is because I didn’t know who the guy was, or what he had done wrong. Overall, I would say that THE JACKAL fails in most areas. It does have a few elements of fun, but mostly because of Willis. Not many actors can portray evil while portraying a sensitive side. However, I still tend to wonder why he hesitated in killing the woman. Sensitive? Oh yeah, kinda gets you right there, doesn’t it?

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