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IN SHORT: So close it misses by a mile.
As the heavy metal music pounds, the title credits montage for The Jackal documents the rise and fall of Communism and the subsequent rise of the Russian Mafia. To bring 'em down we meet a tough as nails Major Valentina Kolslova (Diane Venora) who's working hand in hand with FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier). We'll also meet the brother of the guy they bust, one nasty piece of work, whose killing stroke will make you shudder in your seat and whose presence in this flick pretty much vanishes shortly thereafter.
What we get in The Jackal is a turnabout for star Bruce Willis, who plays the cold as ice contract killer of the title's code name. Preston leads the team assigned to find "the Jackal," hired, they believe, to kill the Director of the FBI. Problem is, the Jackal's never been caught. He's never been seen by anyone of repute. He changes wigs and identities faster than Val Kilmer did in The Saint. The one person known to have seen him has vanished in the good old US of A and only a captive IRA terrorist knows where to find her.
Good God, how complicated can the first twenty minutes of a flick be? What keeps it interesting is some grotesque violence (and y'all love that out there, you know you do...) and, for once, a twinkle in the eye of actor Richard Gere, playing IRA terrorist Declan Mulqueen. He likes this part. He likes playing with the Irish accent (though he does drop it, once) and he is more than comfortable sharing the screen with Poitier who, even in a close to supporting role, dominates the screen.
Here's the problem: the audience knows the "contract price" for the hit. Anyone who passed sixth grade math knows there is no way that the leads planted by Chuck Pfarrer's script can be anything but false. He may be playing with the natural inclination to try to figure out the ending (and you'll all guess wrong) but by the time it's revealed an interesting dichotomy takes place...
On one hand, you don't care. Simultaneously, on the other hand, there's just enough tension in the air that you want to see how it plays out. Classic dichotomy.
Gere, notoriously cold on screen, doesn't fire brightly enough to offset Willis' cold-blooded killings and the constant, passive expression on his face. Once sentence in the script attempts to lay the basis for a vendetta between the men but it is downplayed almost immediately. Some sexual sleight of hand is enough to keep us interested until the inevitable climax is inevitably staged, in the metro subway beneath Washington DC. You know what comes next even before it happens.
Here's the weird part: in the last half hour or so of the sneak that Cranky attended, people were laughing at the screen. That was Cranky's main question to the folks on the way out -- why were they laughing? The general consensus was that it was nervous laughter. Willis was so cold; the killings were so unexpected that laughter was the only vent. The follow-up question, did the audience buy the actors in the roles they played, met with a resounding no. Effective enough to make an audience giggle nervously, but not effective enough to make 'em quiver with tension. That's another dichotomy.
I could write that The Jackal is a boring thriller, which would be an oxymoron. It would also be pretty close to the truth.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Jackal, he would have paid . . .
The Jackal is good enough to be interesting but is not seat gripping thrilling, which is what Cranky had been expecting. On the other hand, the brilliant scene of the month award goes to director Michael Caton-Jones or writer Pfarrer or production designer Michael White, whoever, for staging a stunning game of dodge the subway. When you see the effects shot, you'll know it.
You've got to wait 'til almost the end, but it's worth the wait. The shot is stunning.
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