A ruthless assassin has been hired to eliminate someone at the very top of the U.S. government. Constantly changing his identity and location, he is known only as the Jackal. Everything about this hit man, including his sinister timetable, is a secret.
Aware of the Jackal's presence but uncertain of his purpose, the FBI's Deputy Director faces the biggest challenge of his career. In order to track down this cold-blooded killer, he and a by-the-book Russian intelligence officer enlist the aid of an imprisoned Irish terrorist. These unlikely allies enter a global race against the clock to stop the mysterious mercenary before he can complete his deadly assignment.
If a one-word review were enough to convey the experience of watching Universal's 'The Jackal,' I'd have to go with "huh." This is one of those flicks you've seen a long, long time ago – maybe in a theatre, maybe on TV – and if memory serves, it's a tense, tête-à-tête, cat n' mouse assassination thriller, right? I wish. On re-watching it, this one's just not that good. "Huh… I thought that was a better movie."
After the FBI guns down a Russian mobster, the mob's boss hires a ruthless assassin known only as The Jackal (Bruce Willis) to kill "someone" at the very top of the U.S. Government. And as it turns out, the only person who can assist the FBI's Deputy Director (Sidney Poitier) is an imprisoned IRA terrorist (Richard Gere) with a tragic, personal connection to The Jackal. The story is then told with dueling point of views, showing both The Jackal preparing for his hit, and the FBI trying to figure out where and when he will attack.
For my two cents, the split point-of-views make the movie feel long. Bruce Willis turns a fun performance as the assassin with no name. Slipping in and out of his false identities. In his calmest moments, he is a threatening figure. And then we have the FBI. Gere and Poitier. Tremendous actors doing solid work. Only we know more than they do. We know who and where The Jackal is at all times, so watching the FBI "investigate" is basically watching them play catch up. It's tedious, slow, and half the time it seems as though they're pulling clues out of thin air. Apparently, the reason for this is that – per the director's commentary – they had too long a script, which lead to a 2 hour 45 minute "rough cut". In stripping the movie back to its current running time of just over 2 hours, every scene was affected. It shows.
To counteract the fact that we know who the villain is, and what he's up to, the only mystery left for the audience to chew on is the target of the assassination itself. But we never know this person. We never feel empathy for the life at stake. As for the visual effects, these 1997 specials are really showing their age. Blue screened window plates. CGI subway trails. All looking unrealistic. That being said, the film's not terrible. There are strong performances (I really enjoyed Jack Black's cameo), but in the end, I never really connected with any of the characters, nor was I rooting for anyone to succeed. So for me, the film's just okay. The definition of a three star review. Not great. Not horrible.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 59GB dual layer Blu-ray / DVD flip disc is Region A locked. Side A is a 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc, which includes the movie only. Side B is a 9GB dual layer DVD that appears to be the 1998 Collector's Edition. Video and audio reviews will only apply to the Blu-ray disc side of the film.
This VC-1 1080p transfer (aspect ratio 2.35:1) is adequate at best. The source appears to be in fair condition for its age -- grain levels are low and it doesn't seem digitally enhanced -- but the real flaw here is all the dirt and dust, most apparent during brighter moments and optical transitions (dissolves). Colors are very drab and bland, but unlike certain sections of something like 'Pirate Radio,' this doesn't appear to be intentional, or for dramatic purposes. The inside of a Moscow club and daylight exteriors fair best, meaning they pop and seem realistic. Along these lines, flesh tones are even, but slightly desaturated. Overall detail varies from shot to shot, but any softness seems to be more stylistic (for example, a shallow depth of field which can put the actors in focus and the background out) than a flaw of the encoding. It's definitely a step up from standard definition – in both resolution and clarity – but it's not strikingly different, nor are there any wow (3D-like) moments. It's more akin to watching a movie on HD cable or satellite.
Apart from the video quality, it should be noted that the opening credits are window boxed. Don't become alarmed, because the image will soon fill the full width of your screen.
Universal delivers a solid 5.1 DTS-MA lossless soundtrack that accurately replicates the late '90s surround sound experience. Dialogue is clear. Music swirls in all five channels. Sound effects are crisp, though not aggressively directional. And there are a few action scenes with gunfire and explosions that really pack a punch. Sadly, though not surprising for an older mix, LFE never really growls or fills the room, and I found the whole mix to be a little harsh in the mid to higher frequencies. Almost to the point that it almost seemed more akin to a lossy, or more compressed, track. In the end, it's serviceable, and accurate, but not demo-worthy.
Universal offers no additional soundtracks, but includes English SDH subtitles.
Not counting the added-value of including a DVD version of the movie, the Blu-ray disc itself is as barebones as the new 'Avatar' Blu-ray. Both 'The Making of The Jackal' and 'Feature Commentary with Director Michael Caton-Jones' are only available on the DVD side of the disc. While it's not the end of the world for an older featurette to be available in standard definition, I can't really see myself watching any movie in high-def, and then want to step back to a lesser resolution to hear the audio commentary. But then again, I suppose the point here is to listen to the filmmaker speak, rather than enjoy the increased video capabilities of Blu-ray Disc, so perhaps that won't bother you. To me, it's an odd choice for a high-def release and as such, since no special features were technically on the Blu-ray, all 12-year-old DVD supplements were not re-reviewed. And come on! This is High-Def Digest. Not "High-Def and-that-one-included-DVD-because-we-were-too-cheap-to-port-over-these-old-extras Digest".
I remember really liking this movie during its initial release, and it's filled with a great cast delivering quality performances, but in the end 'The Jackal' is forgettable. Far from great, but a clear cut above terrible, it's an okay movie, perhaps most worth watching while doing other things (say, writing a review about watching 'The Jackal'). On its first trip to Blu-ray, the film does present itself as a value-added experience by including the DVD, but this catalogue release is visually middle of the road, adding no new HD (or otherwise) special features for owners of the DVD. Personally, there are a number of better cat n' mouse thrillers (including the original 1973 'The Day of the Jackal', or the Clint Eastwood / John Malcovich potboiler, 'In the Line of Fire'), so save your cash, or just give it a rent.