Allow me to give you a pop quiz for a moment: what do director Michael Caton-Jones and I have in common? Neither one of us had seen Fred Zinneman's 1973 The Day of the Jackal film before the idea to remake it for (then upcoming) 21st century sensibilities was tossed around. I don't know if Jones has since seen the film since making his reinterpretation, but I know that I haven't, and something tells me his version, while well-intentioned, probably should have been reconsidered.
From Frederick Forsyth's novel, Chuck Pfarrer (Red Planet) takes a turn at modernizing the story, with Bruce Willis (What Just Happened) as the title character. The Jackal has been given a mission to assassinate the First Lady and FBI Director, for retribution on a Russian crime boss's brother being killed. However the Jackal prizes his anonymity, so catching him is a tough proposition. He has only been seen by one man, a jailed IRA gunman named Declan (Richard Gere, I'm Not There). It's Declan's job to spot the Jackal for the FBI before he carries out his job.
All in all, the story within The Jackal is much more focused on the chase, and Jones shows the pursuit of this (and the planning Willis undertakes for the job) effectively, making for a white-knuckled ride. They dispense with things like getting the Jackal's plan moving and the freeing of Declan quickly so they can do just that. On the FBI/good guy side, the Special Agent In- Charge named Preston (Sidney Poitier, Sneakers) and the female Russian officer Valentina (Diane Venora, Heat) try to help Declan find the Jackal. In the meantime, they deal with leaks to the Jackal about what the FBI's next moves might be. They serve as effective complementary pieces to Declan's chase.
As for Gere as Declan, well I've seen the movie twice now, and the lines he's given are good, but he delivers them with such a muddled Irish accent that you're left wondering what it is he may have said at times. It's frustrating because the chase is enticing, and the lilt pushes you right away from your interest. The chase is additionally enticing because you can make the leap of disbelief to some of the weapons that Willis has in his arsenal to pull off the job. Thrown in all of this is a subplot with a once-romantic interest of Declan's that drags the pacing of the film down tremendously.
So does The Jackal manage to pull off the duty of being a post-Cold War thriller with swatches of action thrown in? It does have its moments. Willis does a lot with his low-key manner and delivery of movement as The Jackal. Poitier (and to a lesser degree, Venora) manage to bring some credence to the law-enforcement angle, and there's even a J.K. Simmons sighting, circa Oz. But, at its core, it's a movie with a guy with an indistinguishable Irish accent trying to catch a cold-blooded killer. I saw this movie...when it was called Blown Away, and I wasn't that much of a fan of that, either.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p high-definition presentation from Universal is done with the VC-1 codec and for a decade-plus old film, the results aren't bad. The image is clear and possesses a noticeable layer of film grain in many scenes, and the image detail is better than expected. Blacks are deep and consistent through the film and the level of depth and detail in the background gives the image a multidimensional look in parts of the feature. There are some periods where the image is soft in stretches, but it's not a distracting from the overall viewing experience. Better than I was expecting from Universal.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is effective, but when it wants to be. The Jackal is a quieter film than I remember from a dialogue perspective, and you've got to crank up the volume for extended periods. Coincidentally, it's more a dialogue-driven film to boot, and the levels seem to waffle between weak and not-so-weak. That said, when the Jackal's gun starts becoming a realization, the score goes through all channels during a weapons demo. During the assassination attempt, the subwoofer roars to life and shell casings spill out all around you. So when it gets going, The Jackal is a pretty good sound experience.
Universal goes the combo/flip disc route, with the Blu-ray disc on one side, and the standard definition copy (from whence the screenshots came) is on the other, with all the extras to boot.
Jones provides a commentary for the disc and he possesses good recollection on the production, from recalling where a shot was on the schedule to how he decided to pull the opening credits together. He talks about how he worked with the stars and what he wanted to accomplish with them, and remembers specific information about the other cast members as well, including the pregnancy of an actress who was in a scene for a brief moment. He also recalls some of the studio notes and some other external issues he dealt with during the filming. It's a solid track.
Moving along, you've got an eight-part examination of the making of the film (44:14) which looks at the adaptation and includes a pant load of on-set interviews with the cast and crew. They talk about their work in the film and how it differs from the 1973 version. They also share their thoughts on working with one another. There's even some deleted scenes (and an alternate ending) as part of this piece. Why they wouldn't break out the latter two things separately, I don't know. A series of stills comprising the production notes and cast and crew bibliographies follows, and the film's trailer (1:50) completes the disc.
The Jackal makes for an interesting middle, but a rather uninspired beginning and end. Technically the Blu-ray disc is a surprise (and worth the double-dip if you have the standard definition disc), and the supplements are more informative than I was expecting as well. Definitely worth renting with an eye towards purchase.