J is for… The Jackal
It’s a loose remake of the 1973 movie, though not as loose as some reviewers claim.
I’ll admit part of my reasoning for choosing The Jackal is my never ending love for Bruce Willis. He does a good job in it, between playing the nice guy people forget, and the crazy guy people wish they never met.
The film starts off with American FBI agents in Moscow killing a member of the Russian mob, and his brother Terek Murad (David Hayman) declares war on the FBI by hiring The Jackal (Bruce Willis), a nameless/faceless assassin whom no one seems to be able to prove exists, to kill a target important to the FBI.
Once the FBI learns that The Jackal has been hired, FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier) and Russian Police Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora) realize there’s only one person who can help them find The Jackal. But, the only person who knows where she (Isabella) is is an ex-IRA member who’s in prison for small arms dealing. Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere) admits he also has seen The Jackal and can help the investigation, and agrees to help if the FBI tries to free him, and if Isabella (Mathilda May) is kept safe.
Meanwhile, The Jackal uses a series of false identities to purchase the pieces for and build a huge Gatling gun, and make his way to Washington, DC. Mulqueen and The Jackal finally meet again while The Jackal attempts to shoot his target, which leads to a confrontation in the subway. Of course Mulqueen is victorious, and Preston upholds his part of the bargain by allowing him to escape.
That seems like a watered down version of the plot, but considering a lot of the plot seemed unnecessary, I think it does the movie justice.
Let’s dive in.
A is for… Accents
Another action movie where the hero, Mulqueen, has an accent. What stands out is Mulqueen is Irish.
The film opens in Moscow, so a lot of people have Russian accents. In a nice nod to the real world, everyone is actually speaking Russian and there are subtitles to read, rather than everyone speaking heavily-accented English.
Of course, later on in Helsinki everyone has an accent, as do the people The Jackal converses with in Britain.
Koslova has an accent, one that hindered my comprehension of what she says throughout the movie.
Isabella also has an accent.
Pretty much everyone except Preston and The Jackal has an accent, and even The Jackal fakes a Canadian accent for his false identity.
B is for… Bad Guys
Considering the film’s open credit montage is a series of clips about Russian communism, it’s a little strange that the villains in the movie aren’t, in fact, Russian. Aside from Murad hiring The Jackal, the movie has nothing to do with Russia.
But, if Murad is the one pulling the strings, he’s worth mentioning. Murad, upon learning one of his men didn’t kill any American agents, splits the man’s head open with an axe. He explains to everyone else that the man was like a brother to him and he got no joy from killing him. So, what would he do to the other men? Murad views the FBI killing his brother as an act of war, and so hires The Jackal to kill a target very important to the FBI. Initially they think it’s the head of the FBI, but it turns out he’s targeting the First Lady. He’s also in touch with The Jackal throughout the mission, because he informs him that Mulqueen is on the case.
The Jackal himself is an American with military training who has spent his professional career killing people and creating false identities in order to do it. He’s very methodical and displays absolutely no remorse for killing anyone. He and Mulqueen crossed paths in the past, when The Jackal wounded Isabella and she miscarried Mulqueen’s baby.
C is for… Chases
It can be argued the whole film is a chase scene, because the FBI and Mulqueen are trying to hunt down The Jackal. …it’s a very slow chase scene, with not a whole lot of chasing going on all the time.
Mulqueen briefly chases The Jackal through the harbor in Chicago, but it’s on foot and The Jackal is able to get away pretty easily.
After The Jackal fails to kill the First Lady, he escapes to the subway, where Mulqueen is able to follow him. They run down the tracks and up to another platform, where they have their final stand off.
D is for… Damsels
The movie is thankfully light on Damsels. There’s Koslova, the mannish Russian police major, who seems to have her act together yet when faced with The Jackal shooting other agents in Isabella’s house she shoots randomly and ineffectively, then gets shot through the couch. She had explained to Mulqueen that she never had time for a husband or family, using the burn on her face as an excuse, or maybe it’s just a representation of her duties to her job and country.
Isabella, Mulqueen’s partner and former lover, is able to help with information on The Jackal and never becomes a hindrance. She winds up helping Mulqueen more than any of the federal agents. She has a husband and family, though still may love Mulqueen.
E is for… Explosions
While testing his new Gatling, The Jackal explodes a station wagon.
During the assassination scene, a Marine shoots the gas tank on the minivan housing the Gatling, then shoots it again so it explodes. It’s certainly an effective way to stop the weapon from firing.
F is for… Flashbacks
There aren’t any flashbacks, but it can be argued they would have helped to establish Mulqueen’s and The Jackal’s past together.
G is for… Guns
The IMFDB has details.
The SWAT guys storming the club in Moscow have their weapons.
Murad’s henchman is shot with what appears to be a nonlethal beanbag so he can be interrogated for information. He’s the one who lets the name “The Jackal” slip.
The Jackal orders—through a computer—a 7.62mm M134 Electric Gatling gun. He settles on a Polish ZSU-33 14.5mm, which fires 1400 rounds per minute. He mounts it in the back of a minivan. It’s controlled by a computer that can be operated remotely using a cellphone connection, and has a camera with a long range zoom lens on it to help with aiming. The weapon is long-range and rapid fire, which The Jackal wants because he wants the assassination to be “public and brutal.” It’s overkill, really. So to speak. Especially considering he doesn’t hit his target.
The Jackal also has a handgun he carries with him.
Mulqueen uses a high powered rifle while in the Marine helicopter, and also while on a building. He uses it to shoot the camera off of the Gatling. Surely he was trying to shoot the actual gun, but it stops The Jackal long enough that he can’t finish the job.
Mulqueen and The Jackal face off in the subway with handguns.
Shootouts include the opening scene in the club, Koslova and The Jackal in the harbor, Koslova and The Jackal in Isabella’s house, and the final confrontation in the subway.
H is for… Helicopters
Preston and Mulqueen hop an FBI helicopter for a ride to Isabella’s house once they realize The Jackal will be targeting her. Do they not try to call the house to let Koslova and the other agents know The Jackal knows where they are?
Mulqueen rides an awesome Marine helicopter to DC.
I is for… Improvisation
This movie is pretty straight forward with its use of guns, but the Gatling is pretty impressive.
I wish there had been more of Mulqueen doing awesome things. He seemed like a really with-it guy, and also one who could be really creative when he had to be.
J is for… Jumping Through Solid Objects
There is, sadly, no falling or leaping through windows, walls, doors, floors, etc in The Jackal.
K is for… Kill Count
Generally the kill count is supposed to be for the hero picking off henchman and such, but Mulqueen doesn’t kill anyone and The Jackal, for all he’s supposed to be a shadow, leaves a trail of bodies in his wake.
Ian Lamont (Jack Black), who engineered the Gatling and mount for The Jackal, basically gets blown to pieces by it when The Jackal objects to Lamont trying to get more money from him. Notably, had the sighting not been off (three millimeters to the left) he might have been allowed to live. Instead he gets his arm blown off and then gets shot multiple times.
Once The Jackal learns where Isabella lives, he heads to her home and kills all three agents protecting the place. The one gets shot through the stairs while The Jackal is in the closet underneath them. The other gets shot in the head. And of course Koslova wastes her rounds shooting into a bookcase, only to be shot through the only possible barrier The Jackal had in the open living room.
He goes back to the home of the guy he picked up in the gay bar and shoots him when he recognizes him as the guy in the drawing on TV. It’s never really explained why he chose him and used his home in the first place.
He kills a guard in the subway while storming through it to get away from Mulqueen.
L is for… Limitations
If the entirety of the FBI is counted, the obvious limitation is that no one knows what The Jackal looks like or who he is. Instead, an ex-IRA sniper who’s in an American prison is the only person that knows anything.
Mulqueen’s limitations include he has to listen to the FBI agents and not make waves. He’s also not seen The Jackal in years, and so has to age him mentally in order to recognize him. This isn’t stated in the film, but it has to be true. He also may be hampered by his love of Isabella.
M is for… Motivation
Unsurprisingly, The Jackal is motivated by money. He’ll seemingly get enough from killing the First Lady that he can retire. Especially in 1997, $70 million goes a long way.
Mulqueen’s motivation is his personal feelings towards The Jackal, and if he helps he may get his freedom.
The FBI of course wants to save the life of The Jackal’s target, be it the head of the FBI or the First Lady.
N Is for… Negotiation
Part of the Jackal’s success seems to be the professional way in which he does things. He always negotiates half a payment up front with the balance due upon completion.
Isabella is offered a pardon and no one learns of her whereabouts if she helps find The Jackal.
Mulqueen’s negotiation requires a few steps. At first he’s only offered transfer to a minimum security prison, and he says he’ll do it only if Isabella is kept safe and he’s let go back to Ireland a free man. He settles on getting Preston’s best efforts to get him free. To help in his bargaining he admits he’s seen The Jackal himself and knows his face and methods.
In a separate conversation with Preston, Mulqueen wants to get out of prison and promises he won’t take off. He also wants to get the chance to see Isabella, and get a decent razor.
Lamont gives The Jackal a price for the gun mount, and The Jackal negotiates for a lower price with simply a glare.
Lamont tries to negotiate for more money to keep him quiet about whatever The Jackal plans to do with his assault canon he built for him. This was not a good idea.
O is for… One Liners
Preston: It’s never easy taking a life, but you saved one, too. Mine.
Mulqueen: The entire government wants me dead. Yet here I am.
Mulqueen: Pardon my language. I’ve been in prison.
Preston: Go along, and we’ll get along.
Koslova, to Mulqueen: They always make a mistake somewhere. Isn’t that how you got caught?
The Jackal, to Lamont: I told you it was off.
P is for… Profession
The Jackal is a professional assassin who is said to be very good at his job, and throughout most of the movie he seems to be good at his job. He uses many IDs, disguises, and bank accounts, and is always moving. Mulqueen clarifies that The Jackal always uses four false identities, three of which he keeps on him and one that’s in a dropbox. He has quick-change paint to disguise his minivan and keeps extra sets of license plates. He puts himself into his roles entirely, including affecting accents and picking up guys in bars. The problem is that he goes kind of crazy at the end, which seems totally at odds with the way he’s described and depicted throughout the entire movie.
Declan Mulqueen was an IRA sharp shooter, and he’s serving time for small weapons. He knows Isabella and her whereabouts, which is why he’s needed on the case, but because he’s also seen The Jackal he can be used. He is viewed as a terrorist not to be given freedoms. He seems to be a rather likable terrorist, in any case.
The FBI is hunting The Jackal using the Social Security Numbers he’s been stealing, and identity theft he’s been doing. It’s Mulqueen who points out that the FBI must have a mole, who proceeds to put Isbaella’s name and address in the file, which leads to The Jackal going to her home and killing the agents there. He tells Koslova to tell Mulqueen he can’t protect his women, which leads Mulqueen to realize The Jackal’s target is the First Lady, not the head of the FBI.
Q is for… Quagmire
At the end, with Mulqueen and The Jackal on the subway platform, Mulqueen has no gun, no backup, and of course can’t expect mercy as The Jackal stands above him ready to shoot his own gun. As movie watchers the audience expects something to happen to interrupt The Jackal, but Mulqueen obviously can’t expect that.
R is for… Reality/Suspension of Disbelief
Overall the film is fairly real-world without a lot of fantastical elements to the action. However, it does seem a little easy for the FBI to track down The Jackal with SSNs and such, considering he’s been a shadow for so many years.
S is for… Sidekicks
If Mulqueen is the hero, that makes the FBI his sidekicks, but they’re all pretty useless.
Isabella is a much better sidekick, even though she doesn’t have a big part in the film. She knows The Jackal well enough to describe him as “ice with no feeling.” She also knows he’s American. She tells Mulqueen of a locker with a passport and ten thousand dollars for him to use to run away. She ultimately, of course, also saves the day by getting into the subway and shooting The Jackal.
T is for… Technology
The Jackal uses a computer that has voice recognition software to order his supplies. He also uses a cybercafé to instant message someone, perhaps Murad. He logs on using a modem.
The Gatling is controlled using a cellphone.
It’s notable that the film takes place before surveillance was seemingly everywhere, before 9/11, before it was hard to move through a city without being on camera somewhere.
U is for… Unexpected Romance
Mulqueen seems to have a thing for Koslova, but it could just be that she’s likely the first woman’s he’s interacted with in a long time. He also seems to have chemistry with everything. There doesn’t seem to be a happy ending with Isabella, considering she’s married and has a family, though if they could have one together, they likely would.
V is for… Vehicles as Weapons
Usually this category is for cars being used to run people over, motorcycles being used to light things on fire, stuff like that, but it’s worth mentioning that a regular minivan is turned into an assault vehicle when that Gatling is mounted in the back. Imagine The Jackal driving around the city while firing that thing.
W is for… Winning
Mulqueen and The Jackal face off in the subway. The Jackal—absolutely losing his established “cool” —takes a hostage and prepares to shoot Mulqueen. After Mulqueen puts down his weapon and the hostage is released, Isabella comes up and shoots The Jackal in the throat. While going down he shoots Mulqueen. As Isabella and Mulqueen have a weepy moment, The Jackal pulls out another gun to use to shoot Mulqueen, but Mulqueen beats him to it and shoots him multiple times.
In a personal victory, Preston gives Mulqueen the chance to escape.
X is for… X-Rays, or Maybe You Should See a Doctor
The Jackal gets shot in the leg, but of course he keeps going. Mulqueen actually follows the blood trail to find where he went.
Y is for… Yesterday’s Problem Becomes Today’s Problem
The FBI, CIA, NSA, whoever would be responsible for locating The Jackal, has failed miserably. Had he been apprehended earlier, perhaps when Mulqueen had initially fought with him, he couldn’t shoot the First Lady.
Had The Jackal not hurt Mulqueen and Isabella in the past, perhaps they wouldn’t have been motivated to hunt him down this time. Or go all the way and kill them, rather than toy with them if that’s what he did. The story that could be told about The Jackal’s first run-in with Mulqueen and Isabella would probably be more interesting than the story actually told in The Jackal.
Z is for… Zone, in the
Mulqueen is shown to be at least somewhat in the zone throughout the film, as he pieces together what The Jackal is doing.
The Jackal is not a terrible movie, but it seems to be one of those examples of a good idea with a bad execution. I’d rather the story focus more on Mulqueen hunting down The Jackal, with the FBI angle maybe cut out entirely. You know the way in which John McClane is brought in to deal with Simon in Die Hard With a Vengeance? Perhaps a story like that would have been more engaging. Richard Gere is great as Mulqueen, and it would have been nice to focus more on him without Preston and Koslova getting in the way.
Just a few more points:
What the heck is with the communism montage during the credits? Mulqueen isn’t fighting Stalin in the movie, and it doesn’t take place during the Cold War. Just because it opens in Moscow and a Russian mobster orders the hit doesn’t mean it’s all about communism.
I really, really wanted subtitles to read while taking notes, because the first time through I had trouble understanding what was being said. Partially this was because of the accents, particularly Koslova’s, but also because the audio just seemed muffled on the DVD. Somehow, though, the DVD didn’t have subtitles, which was rather disappointing.
After The Jackal buys his boat, there’s a sequence of him unfurling the sails, enjoying the water, whatever he’s doing, with this strange triumphant music playing. Why on earth is there triumphant, happy music as we watch an assassin hang out on his boat?
Randomly, at 01:50:50 into the movie, as Mulqueen is stalking down the subway platform and people are running for cover, there’s a woman running into a newsstand back behind Mulqueen. While she’s the one that drew my attention, it’s the guy jogging back after her who then nonchalantly slows down and turns to find his place in the newsstand that made me want to mention it. I can almost hear him thinking, “Okay, I ran into the newsstand like I was told, so my part in this scene is done. Let me take my seat.” I guess no one told him to act like a scared commuter facing down gunfire until the director yelled “cut.” It was just amusing, but drew me away from the scene.
All of this being said, the movie is better upon a second viewing when it’s more clear what’s happening. Gere really is good as Mulqueen, and Willis gets to play a bad guy, which he doesn’t often do. They’re so interesting the movie should really focus more on them in a cat-and-mouse situation rather than involve the Russian mob and the FBI and everything else.
I also watched The Day of the Jackal to compare the two movies. It’s true the 1973 film is more engaging in many ways, and really shows the methodology behind what The Jackal and also the lawmen are doing to complete their jobs. The aspects of The Jackal using multiple identities, stealing identities, constantly moving, and going to a gunsmith and id maker, and doing the “half now, half upon completion” payment method are the same. The Jackal also makes some bizarre choices like sleeping with a woman at her home, and giving his (fake) name out to a lot of people. Unlike in The Jackal, in The Day of the Jackal there don’t seem to be extraneous characters that could be cut out for simplicity’s sake. It was also really interesting to see Scotland Yard and the French police figuring out The Jackal’s past and future steps by analyzing his identification documents he falsified, and downright having some lucky breaks. All in a time before computers and online databases.
Other than long shot times that were more common if not customary at the time the movie was filmed, the only complaint I have is that even though the film takes place mostly in France, everyone speaks with an English accent, so it’s impossible to tell where anyone is or who they are. When someone with a British accent is talking about the people from Scotland Yard as if they’re foreigners, and the term “working abroad” is used with respect to France and England, it’s very confusing.
I will end on this question regarding The Day of the Jackal: what the heck is up with The Jackal’s cravat/neckerchief/bandana? It was the most distracting thing I’ve seen in a movie since the explosion of lens flares in 2009’s Star Trek. I kept noticing when he had new ones, and repeated previous ones, and wasn’t wearing one at all. Such an odd costume choice. If it’s part of his disguise as Duggan, why not choose something less strange like suspenders or hats? Unless it was to draw attention away from what he looked like by giving people a removable feature to focus on and remember. But then if someone says, “It was the man with the cravat,” he’d be easily spotted.