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Carlos The Jackal - Review (DVD)


Review by Lisa Giles-Keddie

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GOOD guy or bad guy, does it really matter? The real-life person in question needs to have a winning charisma that translates well onto screen, and makes for a powerful story to watch, however long the film lasts.

Carlos runs at 334 minutes in its unedited form, or 165 minutes if you don’t have the stamina, but it’s advisable to see it in its full-length glory to get a true sense of how the infamous Jackal, nee Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, came about and became a fugitive in every country he set foot in, before his subsequent capture.

The shorter version does miss out key points, like Carlos’s association with the Japanese Red Army that led to his involvement in future, multi-national terrorist operations.

And some of what you watch is understandably hearsay, but the actual timeline of events watched on a big screen makes for captivating viewing.

Think The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008), and you instantly get the picture of its filming style, which has French writer/director Olivier Assayas’s mark all over it: scenes shot and edited with dynamic purpose, emulating the mood of the moment and, therefore, forever altering the pace.

It’s energetic and compelling, bringing to life historical situations but wisely not always showing Carlos in a favourable light.

This is important to see how ego got in the way of this man’s aspirations, as well as to highlight his flaws, making us more empathetic, too.

As times change, the Carlos who is portrayed in the end seems like a broken, washed-up version of the arrogant man in his element in the 1970s-1980s. He is still portrayed as a fighter until the end, stubbornly refusing to surrender his ideals, which makes him almost inspirational in a warped sense.

Admittedly, like any made-for-TV saga, there are parts of the story that lag. That said, the one factor that drives the film is the outstanding and believable performance from Édgar Ramírez, who embodies Carlos totally, thereby keeping you gripped, thrilled, appalled and generally astounded by the versatility, vanity and brilliance of the notorious guerrilla-fighter-cum-businessman.

Like his character, Ramírez oozes confidence in the role and actually gives real-life ladies’ man Carlos more sex appeal than he really deserves.

The fact that the actor has grown up living in several countries adds to his impressive multi-lingual delivery, so Ramírez can concentrate on the task at hand of being Carlos, rather than the tricky job of getting the multitude of accents right.

The film follows Carlos from his revolutionary days, fighting with the Palestinians in Jordan, before joining the Hassad and becoming one of its lead masterminds of active operations.

It also captures the moments during the 1975 OPEC meeting when the oil ministers were kidnapped in Vienna, and, ironically, still managing to show a compassionate side to Carlos.

It then focuses on the years leading up to his missions with East German wife Magdalena Kopp (impressively played by Austria’s Nora von Waldstätten).

Assayas makes sure all of Carlos’s operations and political dealings are recreated in great detail, ending with his arrest in France in 1994, after being kidnapped in Africa.

It’s like a visual history lesson in terrorism, but serves as a fascinating look at how such figures of terror evolve – ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’, so the saying goes.

Assayas’s frankness absolutely comes across in his direction that results in a credible, almost pseudo-documentary feel that is both informative and captivating.

Combined with Ramírez’s huge talent, Carlos becomes an intriguing biographical experience-cum-action thriller that will hopefully attract a healthy mainstream interest at the box office – even if it’s just catching the 165-minute version.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 334mins/165mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 1, 2010