Having been around for well over a decade, the Blu-ray format is finally producing titles that we’ve been waiting to put on our shelves for a very long time.
The Day of The Jackal is one of the ultimate political thrillers, finally available on Blu-ray in North America. It’s visceral sense of realism is rarely seen in cinema and has been the standard bearer in this genre for nearly 45 years.
It’s August 1962 and the latest attempt on the life of French President Charles de Gaulle by the far right paramilitary organization, the OAS finds a way to end in chaos. Its architect-in-chief is dead at the hands of a firing squad and the OAS finds themselves totally demoralized and on the verge of bankruptcy, so as their leaders meet in secret to plan their next move they know that they’ve only got one move left. In a last desperate effort to eliminate de Gaulle, they opt to go outside of their organization and hire a professional assassin. Enter The Jackal (Edward Fox); at first glance a charismatic man, but also calculating and as cold as ice when it comes to the job at hand. As the Jackal closes in on his ultimate target, a race against the clock is underway to identify and put to a stop a killer whose identity and methods are not only unknown, but could change at any given time.
This film truly is the epitome of exciting filmmaking as it all plays out in such a simple, near documentary like style and it puts us into the belly of this high octane chase. For the political thriller, The Day of the Jackal is the bench mark that everyone else has been judged by.
Adapted from the bestselling novel from by Fredrick Forsyth, the script by Kenneth Ross has a sense of vitality to it as nothing ever plays out in any kind of grand set piece or moments, it instead just takes us on a steady stream down the rabbit hole of the narrative. Ross keeps the material grounded and it always feels like you’re watching something real from beginning to end which is a challenge while you’re making something when essentially your audience knows the ending.
Coming off of a seven year hiatus, director Fred Zinnemann had to be feeling just a tiny bit of pressure to see that he still had what it takes after a long and illustrious career but he showed out and then some delivering a self assured piece of cinema that is no surprise from a man whose oeuvre includes the likes of From Here To Eternity and High Noon. In many ways this film really does feel like an extension of High Noon as it slowly bathes itself in the tension of the situation and getting to shoot in places like the French Ministry of Interior and getting extreme close ups of the 14 of July parade made this all feel like something genuine that had never been seen on screen before and only adding to the films authenticity.
In spite of a loaded ensemble of actors to play with like Michael Lonsdale, Derek Jacobi and Cyril Cusack, this film thrives and survives even to this day on the performance by Edward Fox. Here in one of his first leading roles he commands every frame of the screen with such a minimalist sense of dread and it works so damn well. It’s not a character that is supposed to be larger than life or grandiose, he has to slink into the background one minute, then shoot a murderous glare at you the second. He makes the character so damn compelling because he’s such a chameleon through it all and it’s a masterful performance that anchors the entire film.
Finally available in North America thanks to Arrow Video, the special features here on The Day of the Jackal are a little sparse and basic but they aren’t without some value.
- The film is finally presented in 1080p resolution which looks quite good. It’s nothing that will blow home theatre aficionados out of the water but it’s clear and well balanced, with an uncompressed mono audio track.
- 36 minute interview with Neil Sinyard; the author of Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience – This is actually a pretty solid piece as it really does get into the head of Zinnemann as a storyteller and looking at the elements of the story and how they’ve sustained over all these years, especially the issues of conscience which are so key and how they play opposite the character of ‘The Jackal’.
- EPK feature offering a behind the scenes look at the film shot on set which is pretty generic and just looks at some of the parade scenes and how they shot some of the larger crowd scenes in the film and it’s under three minutes.
- On-set interview with Fred Zinnemann in French. It’s short but still interesting to see this behind the scenes talk during the making of the film, also under three minutes.
- Original screenplay by Kenneth Ross is accessible via BD-ROM
- Priginal theatrical trailer which is clean but hasn’t had any restoration work on it.
- Reversible Sleeve featuring Original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain.
Based on the quality of the film alone, The Day Of The Jackal is more than ‘Shelf’ worthy because even though the extras are a little thin, it is a master stroke of cinema that deserves to be seen again and again.