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Playing Cat and Mouse in 'Jackal'

March 24, 1994|JON NALICK

In the suspenseful "Day of the Jackal," a master assassin hired to kill French President Charles de Gaulle works to complete his mission while government detectives race to uncover his identity and stop him.

The movie, based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, begins as French generals are plotting to kill the president and entice an assassin known only as "the Jackal" to do the job. Police soon discover the plot but have no idea who the hit man is or when he may strike. Worse, the president insists on maintaining a schedule of risky public appearances and refuses extra security measures.

Edward Fox is the Jackal, a villain who's all the more menacing because his attitude is so matter-of-fact and businesslike. In a scene in which an accomplice blackmails him, the assassin responds without anger or threats, but it is clear that his smug partner can measure his remaining life in minutes.

Much of the film follows the Jackal as he prepares for his mission, doing such tasks as getting passports to match his disguises and a collapsible rifle capable of firing explosive-tipped bullets. Dialogue is often sparse because he is alone in many of the scenes, preparing, planning and evading capture, but the action is involving because it reveals only one small piece of his plan at a time.

Michel Lonsdale plays Claude Lebel, the police commissioner who is charged with the seemingly impossible task of identifying and capturing the assassin.

The shrewd and thorough Lebel is up to the task. When he unmasks the source of an information leak among more than a dozen cabinet-level officials, they challenge him to provide evidence. So he plays a recording of one of the officials' lovers phoning information about the investigation to the conspirators. Later, the impressed prime minister tells him: "There is one thing, though. How did you know whose telephone to tap?"

"I didn't," Lebel replies. "So I tapped all of them."

The movie unfolds as a kind of chess game between an assassin bent on taking a life and a detective determined to save one. Each employs move and countermove, hoping to catch the other off balance and strike the final blow.

"Day of the Jackal" (1973), directed by Fred Zinnemann. 143 minutes. Rated PG.

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