PLOT: The life of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, AKA Carlos the Jackal, the infamous terrorist responsible for countless bombings, hijackings, and murders throughout the seventies through his association with the PLO.
REVIEW: CARLOS is one of the more ambitious films Iíve seen lately. The brainchild of director Olivier Assayas, whose mostly known for art house fare like IRMA VEP and DEMONLOVER, this is a sprawling epic that manages to be both a thrilling action thriller examining the life of The Jackal (by which name heís never referred to in the film) while simultaneously managing to steer clear of glamorization. After all, Carlos was a bastard, who in the guise of so-called ďfreedom fightingĒ killed tons of innocents, before transitioning into the mercenary for hire business.
This is a remarkable achievement for Assayas. Whenever it seems like weíre going to get carried away by some of the more rock níroll parts of The Jackalís lifestyle, including rendezvous with countless sexy Euro-vamps, we get insight into the fact that the Jackal, despite his good looks, intelligence, and jet-set lifestyle, was no hero.
In the lead role, Edgar Ramirez is incredible. This is really a star-making part for the actor, whoís mostly known in North America as the assassin spared by Bourne in THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, and from Tony Scottís under-appreciated DOMINO. This is a towering performance, with Ramirez juggling six languages without missing a beat, and undergoing a radical transformation as we get into the different parts of the Jackalís life.
At his height, and with his ego running amok, Carlos keeps himself ridiculously fit, and in one sequence we see the freshly groomed Carlos grease himself up and masturbate while looking into a mirror. This probably sounds exploitative, but itís done in a tasteful way, and really drives home how egocentric a character he was, which is crucial if we want to understand this guy. After heís gone to seed a little later in the film, we get a virtual replay of the scene, with Carlos now un-groomed, and carrying a beer-belly.
One important thing to mention is that CARLOS is available in two versions, a six hour miniseries version thatís airing on The Sundance Channel in the States, and a 160 minute cut down version thatís playing both on-demand, and in theaters. This shortened cut is the version I saw, but I really wish I had seen the full six hour, as this felt like just a taste of a potentially incredible film.
Still, even in its compromised form, CARLOS is incredibly satisfying, and well- worth seeing. The centerpiece here is The Jackalís infamous hijacking of the OPEC international oil ministersí conference, where several attendants were kidnapped, and eventually ransomed off. In the three hour version, it takes up about an hour of screen time, and its thrilling stuff.
I really dug CARLOS in a big way, and I hope people check it out, if only for the fact that Ramirez deserves to become a bona-fide leading man after his turn here. Itís also a fascinating look at political terrorism in the seventies, with this comparing favorably to Steven Spielbergís MUNICH (a great film that I think will eventually be reassessed as one of his best films). I truly canít wait to get my hands on the six-hour cut of this film, and I hope grand epics such as this, being based on challenging subjects, continue to get made.