“Carlos the Jackal” Follows Infamous Venezuelan Terrorist Until His Capture

Jonathan Crescenzo

“Carlos” is a semi-biographical film about the notorious Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known by his alias, Carlos the Jackal. Most notorious for his raid of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) headquarters, which led to the death of three people, Carlos was among the most wanted international fugitives for many years.

Originally a French miniseries, the film is nothing like anything on television. Divided over three sections, the film is a five-and-a-half hour political epic.

No time is wasted as Carlos globe-trots over two continents. Shootings, assassinations, bombings and mishaps litter the film, and director Olivier Assayas’ understanding of suspense keeps the film taut.

Though the film mentions in the beginning that the piece is a work of fiction, both director Assayas and writer Dan Franck performed extensive research on the topic. The film is certainly more historically accurate than any “based on a true story” movie currently
being released from Hollywood.

The film does not focus on Carlos’ early upbringing in Venezuela, his parents’ divorce or subsequent move to England. Rather, the first section of the film jumps to Carlos working under the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and ending right before his raid of the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, where the group captures over 60 hostages in 1975.

The second section of film takes place primarily after the OPEC incident. The PFLP expels Carlos for failing to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s Sheik Ahmed Yamani as well as others. Carlos forms his own organization and they perform a string of attacks against Western governments.

The third part of the film has Carlos and his group in East Germany. At this point, most of Carlos’ comrades have defected or are dead. His dwindling number of friends grows increasingly embittered as Carlos berates them for lack of courage and their abhorrence of his sexual promiscuity.

The film concludes with Carlos’ capture in 1995.

The film holds similarities to films like “Goodfellas,” “Blow,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Che.” Edgar Ramirez, whose credits include “Domino” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” is tasked with portraying a man regarded by some as a murderer and a hero to others.

Ramirez’ representation of Carlos is a balancing act. He’s narcissistic, egotistic and conceited, while at the same time idealistic, charming and inspiring.

In Assayas’s film Carlos starts out as a Marxist revolutionary fighting an armed revolution against Western governments and for the liberation of Palestine, but soon he becomes destroyed by his self-centeredness and sexual egotism.

By the time of Carlos’s capture in Sudan, he shows little concern for Palestinians and the Marxist revolution. Ramirez and director Assayas present a humanizing depiction of Carlos, but they contrast it with Carlos’s use of violence and brutality. In this sense, Carlos is vicious and frightening.

In one scene Assayas cleverly films a single shot where Carlos executes a man who betrays him, exits the apartment and then returns to shoot him again. The violence is devastating
and raw.

Realism seems to be director Assayas’s aim. The film utilization of historical footage and shaky cameras compliment each other, but it also shows the havoc of terrorism as terrifying as reality is.

Assayas’s honest depictions of violence set it apart from Hollywood films today.

While the film focuses on Carlos, it also explores the characters around him. Asssayas presents a film that is full of complex politics, where the world acts as an unpredictable chess game, and shaky alliances and double-crosses led to jail or assassination.

The three sections of the film are not equal. The third fails to manage the intensity and suspense of the first two sections, but acts more as a resolution.

By the third section, Carlos’s world begins to deteriorate, and he discovers how much of a pawn he is.