Universal // 1997 // 125 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // April 27th, 2010
How do you stop an assassin who has no identity?
Fred Zinnemann's 1973 suspense thriller The Day of the Jackal gets a slick Hollywood update with fairly ugly results. Now, you too can enjoy The Jackal in full 1080p HD with Universal's new Blu-ray "flipper" disc.
He's called The Jackal, and he's the best assassin in the world (he's also played by Bruce Willis of The Whole Ten Yards). When the FBI (led by Sidney Poitier, Sneakers) and the Russian MVD (lead by Diane Venora, Heat) learn the Jackal has been hired to kill the director of the FBI, they have no one to turn to but the one man who has seen the legendary assassin's face: incarcerated IRA sniper Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere, Days of Heaven). As the Jackal continues to slip under the radar and move closer to his killing off his target, will Mulqueen and the FBI be able to catch him before it's too late?
The 1997 remake The Jackal is a near-perfect example of slick, forgettable Hollywood trash. It's competently made, features a few big movie stars and, on the surface, appears to be respectable. Do not be fooled. It's an ugly, mean-spirited and violent movie that fails to justify its own nastiness, much less pay tribute to (or even resemble) Fred Zinnemann's original film. In many ways, it's like the precursor to modern-day junk like Law Abiding Citizen, another film that pretends to be something better than it is. The Jackal would like you to believe it's an adult-oriented thriller -- a cat-and-mouse game for grown-ups, dressed up with political undertones. It's really just an excuse for boys to get bloody and Bruce Willis to wear a series of terrible hairpieces.
Sadly (or not), Bruce Willis' endless series of toupees and disguises is The Jackal's legacy. Though he's set up as the greatest assassin the world has ever known, there's very little proof of The Jackal's abilities. This is perhaps the film's greatest shortcoming. As Hitchcock used to say, audiences love a guy who's good at his job; The Jackal never shows us that The Jackal is all that good at his job. There's just Bruce Willis changing his look every scene -- which, by the way, he's very good at. It doesn't help that Willis utterly phones in his performance, appearing bored in every single scene. It's very easy to tell when Bruce Willis knows he's acting in a lousy movie -- a self-awareness I suppose I should give him credit for -- and The Jackal certainly belongs on that list, alongside other junk like Mercury Rising, The Siege, and Hostage. How many other movie stars' careers have survived so many bad films?
Willis gets little support from Gere in a role that feels forced in, splitting the movie right down the center -- there's the Jackal stuff and the good guy stuff, and rarely do the twain meet. You can feel the screenwriter creating a "movie star part" where there doesn't need to be one, which is how we end up with Gere's former IRA sniper. The role has got it all: tortured backstory, romantic subplot, and, of course, an accent. How could Gere refuse? Unfortunately, he's almost as bland as Willis (I say "almost" because there is nothing as bland as Bruce Willis in The Jackal), and his romantic plot line with Mathilda May (nice to see her getting work after Lifeforce) is just unnecessary padding for a movie that's already overlong. The scenes between Gere and Diane Venora, though some of the better-acted in the movie, should prove to be particularly amusing for bad movie fans. It's like eavesdropping on a conversation between Natasha Fatale and the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
Of course, dull performances do not an unpleasant movie make. But The Jackal has ugliness to spare, thanks to some harsh violence, general mean-spiritedness, and rampant homophobia (which Willis reportedly tried to curb with changes to the script, so there's no telling what the thing looked like in its original incarnation). Perhaps it was director Michael Caton-Jones' attempt to distinguish the otherwise unremarkable film in some way; the Scottish filmmaker, who began his career as a skilled director-for-hire -- with films like Scandal, Memphis Belle and Doc Hollywood -- became schlockier and schlockier as the years went on, culminating in Basic Instinct 2 -- as schlocky as movies get. The Jackal is a big first step in that downward slide, compensating for its lack of intelligence or suspense with shocking bloody violence.
The Jackal arrives courtesy of Universal on one of their new "flipper" discs; a Blu-ray copy on one side and the standard definition DVD on the other. The Blu-ray is a full 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio; it's a reasonably good effort for a catalogue, release but certainly not one of the best the format has to offer. There's some good detail throughout, but skin tones tend to run a little hot and I was able to detect some occasional dirt and print damage, as well as a few instances of aliasing. The HD transfer is also more unforgiving of some shoddy green screen work during the climax, so while it's technically an upgrade in image it presents a new set of problems. This is definitely the best The Jackal has ever looked on home video, but it's still pretty far from being reference quality. The DTS-HD master audio track is strong, particularly during heightened action sequences, but most of the activity is handled in the front channels and, as such, the track isn't quite as engrossing as some of the better lossless tracks I've heard.
The Blu-ray side of the disc has no special features, but flipping over to the standard DVD turns up all of the original supplements from the 1998 "Collector's Edition" DVD. There's a standard making-of featurette and a subdued, largely technical commentary track from director Michael Caton-Jones. Even for fans of the movie, it's pretty tough going.
I'm sure The Jackal has its fans. Every movie does. And those fans may be delighted about Universal's HD upgrade. I have to believe there are more worthy titles in the catalogue than this one. The Jackal might leave a bad taste in your mouth, but it won't last. It's utterly forgettable.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R