A Visual Symphony
Great adaptations occur when content as well as context are observed correctly. The Day of the Jackal features such subtle pacing and art direction, Frederick Forsyth should be proud of the finished article. This visual symphony, teased into being by director Fred Zinnemann and editor Ralph Kemplen, displays remarkable versatility.
Edward Fox shines as the Jackal, a contract killer chosen by the radical OAS to eliminate French President Charles de Gaulle. Equal kudos go to Michel Lonsdale for bringing Detective Claude Lebel to vivid life.
The whole film feels distinguished by artists operating at the pinnacle of technique: Composer Georges Delerue treads softly on the picture’s soundscape with a score which redefines minimalism.
If one were to find any fault with the filmmaking it would be about halfway through the story. Five or six shots of the Jackal travelling in his car could have been shortened to one or two images. Otherwise, the editing works splendidly.
The scene in which the Jackal practices using his light, custom-made rifle has such a fine cinematic precision, no dialogue intrudes on the atmosphere. As he lines up the cross-hairs, our anticipation grows until he slides an explosive bullet into the chamber and fires. The effect is awe-inspiring.
Interestingly, the novel by Forsyth has always been a favourite of mine. This bias toward the literary source could have tainted the motion picture experience. In fact, knowing the key details beforehand allowed me to nod my head in approval with this adaptation.
Apart from Kemplen’s deserved Oscar nomination, The Day of the Jackal received no extra love from the Academy. That’s a shame considering the factors at play here.
(Released by Universal and rated "PG" by MPAA.)