Directed by Olivier Assayas.
Starring Édgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Nora von Waldstätten, Ahmad Kaabour, Christoph Bach, Susanne Wuest, Anna Thalbach and Julia Hummer.
A biopic of the Venezuelan revolutionary and international terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Before Osama bin Laden became the world’s most wanted fugitive in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, one man was synonymous with international terrorism – Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal. A South American revolutionary-cum-mercenary responsible for a number of high-profile attacks throughout the 70s and 80s, The Jackal’s bloody rise to prominence and subsequent downfall serves as the basis for Carlos, an exhaustive 5½ hour biopic from French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep).
Premiering out of competition at Cannes earlier this year, there are currently two versions of Carlos doing the rounds – a truncated 2½ hour ‘theatrical’ cut and the complete ‘trilogy’ version, which was originally developed as a three-part miniseries for French television. While it may have been intended for the small-screen, Carlos’ lavish production values, Assayas’ cinematic pedigree and a strong performance from Édgar Ramírez (The Bourne Ultimatum) in the title role all combine to deliver a hugely-ambitious and impressive take on one of the most notorious figures of the late-twentieth century.
The first part of the film deals with Carlos’ entry into the world of international terrorism as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, building his reputation through a succession of kidnappings, bombings and RPG attacks on Israeli airliners. Forced to flee Europe after the murder of two police detectives, Carlos is given sanctuary in the Lebanese capital of Beirut where he hatches his most infamous crime – the 1975 raid on the Vienna headquarters of the OPEC oil cartel. This raid takes up the majority of the second episode and is masterfully recreated in a riveting sequence that begins with the kidnapping of sixty hostages and murder of three. After negotiating for Austrian authorities to broadcast a message about the Palestinian cause, Carlos and his team demand the use of a DC-9 and look to pull off an audacious escape only to find themselves taxiing between Algerian, Libyan and Iraqi airspace in a desperate search for asylum.
Unfortunately after delivering such an impressive middle-act the film stumbles somewhat in its concluding part, with Carlos’ dwindling influence and eventual incarceration drawn out in comparison to the frenetic action of the preceding episodes. As with Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic Che (2008), there are times during the film – particularly towards the end – when you begin to wonder whether the lengthy running-time is really all that necessary. However, that’s not to say this ruins the film by any stretch of the imagination – at its peak it rivals the likes of Munich (2005) and United 93 (2006) for drama and intensity and is certainly one of the best television productions I’ve seen in a long time.
Carlos received its UK premiere at the London International Film Festival earlier this week in its ‘trilogy’ form, which by all accounts is far superior to the ‘theatrical’ cut. Having only seen the former I am unable to offer a comparison myself but I would certainly not want to miss one moment of the gripping OPEC hostage sequence, which really is worth the price of admission in itself. It may lose its way a little towards the end but the first two episodes make the complete version of Carlos a must-see, although your backside will probably thank you for waiting for the home release.
Carlos is currently on limited release in UK cinemas and hits DVD and Blu-ray on November 1st.
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