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Film / The Jackal

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The Jackal is a 1997 suspense thriller starring Bruce Willis, Richard Gere, Diane Venora, and Sidney Poitier. It was directed by Michael Caton Jones. While its title is similar to the 1973 film The Day of the Jackal, it shares only the main story point of an anonymous assassin and some general plot elements.

Russian mobster Terek Murad has declared open season on the Russian MVD and the FBI over the shooting of his brother in a Moscow nightclub. He hires the Jackal (Willis), a nasty assassin whom almost nobody has ever seen, to kill the Director of the FBI. With nowhere else to turn (except a woman who used to work with the Basque separatists, who is now in the USA but whose exact whereabouts in unknown to all save one man), FBI Deputy Director Carter Preston (Poitier), who was present at the Moscow shooting, and Major Valentina Koslova (Venora) of the MVD (who pulled the trigger in that shooting) enlist the reluctant services of Declan Mulqueen (Gere), an imprisoned IRA sniper, to track the Jackal down, for Declan is the only other person who can positively identify the Jackal.

The Jackal contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Major Koslova and Isabella Zanconia. The former is a veteran Russian soldier, the latter is ex-IRA and is the one that finally blows the Jackal away.
  • Actionized Adaptation: There's more deaths, gun fights and the Jackal's plan to snipe someone involves him using not a .22 Scaramanga Special, but a .50 BMG machine gun that needs a car to be moved around.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: On the original book and film, the reason why the authorities got their knowledge about the Jackal in the first place was their suspicion about why was the French separatist group that hired him going on a bank robbing rampage, and lucking up when their abduction of one of the group's higher-ups (that was being used as a messenger) had him tell about the Jackal. On this film, Murad's group never seems to have money issues at all (Murad just makes a quip about the Jackal being expensive before laughing it off and agreeing with a toast when the Jackal says his price) and the Russian police just happened to luck into catching some random member of the group that had somehow overheard Murad talking about the Jackal. Also compare the French knowing absolutely jack about the Jackal in the beginning vs. the FSB (through old KGB files) and FBI having enough of a dossier to immediately finger Mulqueen as a someone who may have met him once.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The Jackal in the original book and film is a cold-blooded professional killer who does his job efficiently and without drawing undue attention to himself. He kills a handful of arguably innocent people during his preparations, but only those who threaten to expose him. Whereas this version of the Jackal abandons any pretense of detachment early on, becoming a cackling psychopath who racks up a significantly higher body count (killing his victims in much less discreet fashion than his predecessor), openly engages Mulqueen and the FBI in public gun battles, and willingly endangers civilians who pose no danger to him.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The Jackal doesn't seem to have any problems at all going into gay bars and seducing men. While this could have just been playacting, he's exceptionally casual about it with his target, implying he might have actually been intending to go along with it for awhile until the news broadcast stepped things up.
  • Antagonist Title: While still named after the eponymous assassin, the film does away with the first half of the original novel's title in favour of simply calling it The Jackal.
  • Arms Dealer: The Jackal buys the ZSU-33 from an online (complete with a Microsoft Sam voice) arms dealer that can provide any weapon desired, coming up with several options even after the Jackals tightly narrows down his preferences.
  • Assassination Attempt: The Jackal is hired by Russian mobsters to assassinate the Director of the FBI because they dealt their organization a blow in a joint operation with the FSB. In fact, his real target is the First Lady of the United States.
  • The Atoner: Declan Mulqueen was a soldier for the IRA, but wasn't a mad-dog terrorist like other members were, and would really prefer to be let out so he can go someplace quiet and live out the rest of his days in peace.
  • Bad Boss: Murad — he buries an axe in the head of a subordinate — one he tells the others he loved like a son, no less — for failing to kill any of the militia group whose operation led to the death of his brother.
  • BFG: The Polish ZSU-33 14.5mm. It's fictional and most likely based on the M2HB or the Russian KPV.
    • The Internet Movie Firearms Database lists it as an M2HB mocked up as a KPV.
  • Black Blood: Lampshaded by the Jackal after he shoots Koslova through the liver.
  • Blackmail Backfire: Lamont tries to swindle more money out of The Jackal after he completes the radio-controlled support. Lamont guesses correctly that the support will be used for a BFG of some kind, The Jackal is mighty intimidating (and not hard to guess is a killer for hire just from the way he talks), and the Jackal asks Lamont for a well-isolated area to test said gun and for him to come along. What follows is by no means surprising.
  • Boxed Crook: Declan Malqueen.
  • Bury Your Gays: The DC bureaucrat that Jackal had 'befriended' at the gay bar.
  • By-the-Book Cop: FBI Agent Whiterspoon, played for tragedy. Even after he was explicitly ordered by his superior to not put the address of Isabella and her family on the case's documentation in fear of what may happen if The Mole gets his hands on it, Whiterspoon does it anyway and the Jackal ends up killing all of the agents on the house, including Koslova. Preston even calls him such as he's listening to the transcript's recording and hears that it has the address...
    Deputy Director Carter Preston: Whiterspoon, you by-the-book asshole!
  • Catchphrase: "Half now, half on delivery" is the Jackal's standard form of payment.note 
  • Celebrity Paradox: In an early scene, the Kojak episode "Birthday Party" is showing in the background. Richard Gere was in this episode.
  • Composite Character: Lamont combines the gunsmith (providing the Jackal his weapon) and the forger (unwisely tries to blackmail the Jackal) from the original story. This movie's forger character deals with the Jackal briefly and professionally and is never seen after her first appearance.
  • Diving Save: During the assassination assault, the FBI director is saved by being pushing out of the line of fire.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: During the climax the Jackal took a girl as hostage. However he says he'll let her go if Declan drops his gun. Once Declan complies the Jackal releases her.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": They never find out the real name of the Jackal.
  • Famous-Named Foreigner: Murad, the Russian mobster that hires the Jackal to avenge his son, shares his name with the protagonist of the Leo Tolstoy novel Hadji Murat.
  • Good Is Not Nice: For an argueable level of good, the Russian authorities capturing one of Murad's men and then electrocute-torture him to death for information with getting nothing more out of him then the name "Jackal".
  • The Hero Dies: More like The Villain Dies. The Jackal does die in the end.
  • Hidden Supplies: The Jackal reveals to have a safe (protected with a hand grenade booby trap) with some fake documents, and vehicle plates that he uses for the last leg of his mission. It's also made clear that Mulqueen has a similar cache lying around and he will use it to disappear forever after Preston lets him go.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • The Jackal kills Lamont because he was trying to blackmail him into giving him more money for the plans for the mount of his BFG, but afterwards he just leaves behind the plans and Lamont's corpse for everyone to find.
    • Witherspoon has been a part of the case from day one and knows that Preston is not kidding when he says that he wants the location of Isabella out of the files because The Mole may get this intel. He follows procedure anyway, and gets multiple Federal agents killed, including himself. when the Jackal decides to come calling.
  • Informed Ability: The Jackal is supposed to be one of the best assassins in the world, but for some reason the good guys still have no problem following his every step. To be fair, how they catch up with his every step borders on telepathy, but using the weapon you plan to use for your assassination to rip a small-time gunsmith to shreds still isn't very intelligent, even if he is trying to blackmail you. There must be at least a thousand ways to make him disappear without anyone getting suspicious.
  • In Name Only: To The Day of the Jackal. Although the movie features a handful of shout outs and plot points to the original book and film, they have little in common aside from the very general outline.
  • Karma Houdini: Murad hires the Jackal to kill the target, and then is never seen again. Though it's said, after the Jackal's demise, that the authorities are going back to Russia to track him down.
  • Lack of Empathy: While the Jackal is using Lamont as a target practice he tells him to hold out the pack of cigarettes. Despite aiming at it he blows Lamont's arm off. The Jackal's response is simply "I told you it (the gun sight) was off." Then he yells at him to move over by the car "before you pass out."
  • Lawful Stupid: Whiterspoon gets multiple people killed, including Koslova and himself, because he followed FBI filing and informant procedure and placed Isabella's address in the interview transcript even after Carter Preston (his direct superior as Deputy Director) ordered him to leave it out.
  • The Mafiya: They are the Greater-Scope Villain of this piece, instead of the French revolutionaries of the original story.
  • Make an Example of Them: This, and Disproportionate Retribution, is why Murad hires The Jackal: an FBI agent (part of a joint task force — he also mentions he is getting rid of the Russian policemen himself) kills his brother in self-defense, so he wants to make sure that a message is delivered by having the Jackal kill the First Lady of the United States in the most brutal, public way possible. The only reason why the FBI catches on to this is because the Jackal decides to play Criminal Mind Games by asking a dying Major Koslova to pass a message to Mulqueen ("you can't protect your women") which would only make sense if the target is someone other than the one they presumed to be up to that point, which was the director of the FBI. The fact that this latter was being protected so strongly from the moment they know about The Jackal that it was a potential Suicide Mission to get to him while the First Lady was going to appear on the opening of a children's hospital was also a factor in figuring this out. Murad also kills one of the men who were supposed to bodyguard his brother, who he mentions was a very dear friend of his, in front of all of his subordinates and mentions that he "felt no pleasure" of doing this and that they can imagine what he will do to the people he actually hates.
  • Master of Disguise: Jackal uses a variety of wigs, stolen drivers' licenses, and passports to make his purchases.
  • Mercy Lead: Implicitly, Preston gives Declan at the end of the movie one of these as the former goes for Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: The Jackal takes out Lamont and a car with a massive barrage from the radio-controlled BFG.
  • One Last Job: Justified, as his contracted target is so high-profile, the Jackal literally has no choice but to ask Murad for a big enough payday to lay low for the rest of his life.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: A particularly gruesome example. Richard Gere's stab at an Irish accent fluctuates between passable to cartoon caricature to Not Even Bothering with the Accent from scene to scene.
  • Pet the Dog: The Jackal gives a generous tip to the pregnant young black woman in London who forges passports for him. And he later lets a girl he took as hostage go unharmed after Declan drops his gun as he ordered him.
  • Professional Killer: The Jackal is in it for the money, mostly.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Mafiya, in this specific occasion: in retaliation for the accidental death of his brother (a death that happened because the idiot tried to threaten and then tried to kill a bunch of cops while being taken into custody), Murad not only declares open season on those cops but orders the assassination of the First Lady of the United States as a "this is what happens when you fuck with me".
  • Shoot the Fuel Tank: Averted. They shoot at the tank to make it leak gasoline, wait a couple of seconds for a sizable puddle to form, then they shoot at the ground to cause the spark that would make the minivan explode.
  • The Sociopath: The Jackal kills people with no change of expression, at some point even showing sadism, and also cares very little for collateral damages. Isabella Zanconia also describes him "ice, no feeling — nothing".
  • Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee: This is how Declan walks away a free man after the government denies him an early release and gives him minimum-security instead. Preston is personally against the decision by his higher-ups, but sighs as his hands are officially tied, then as the two stop near a coffee bar, Preston turns to Declan and says he's going to go for a cup of coffee and will be back in… thirty minutes; Declan understands that that is his cue to just walk away a free man.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: Lamont is played by none other than Jack Black (in an early role, mind you), so his character isn't particularly serious. The tone darkens a bit once said character gets the most gruesome death in the movie.
  • Stupid Evil:
    • The confrontation that makes the whole plot happen escalates into a shootout because Murad's brother decides it's a good idea to belt out death threats to every cop in the room, followed by starting a brawl with intent to stab Major Koslova.
    • Lamont decides it's a good idea to try to blackmail the man who has "trained assassin" written all over his face. It's a combo stupid act, even, because The Jackal decides it's a good idea to use the gigantic freaking machine gun that is imperative for his plan to kill the First Lady to get rid of him rather than, say, just snap his neck, as well as leave all evidence (including the one he explicitly ordered Lamont to hand over so he could destroy it after building the remote-controlled system for the gun) behind.
    • The Jackal has killed multiple FBI agents and fatally wounded Major Koslova, and for some cute reason he decides it's a good idea to give her a playful quip about how Declan "can't protect his women", which directly leads to the FBI figuring out that his target is the First Lady. Even going to Isabella's house is a dumb move — what did he expect to gain out of it, with the possibility of it being a trap even, if not more Kick the Dog material?
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Jackal was hired by Murad to deliver a very loud and nasty assassination, and he delivers: his plan still involves sniping his target, but he uses a .50 BMG machine gun instead of the pistol-caliber Scaramanga Special of the original book.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • So you've decided to blackmail the obviously well-financed and dangerous criminal that's hired you to build a base for his huge gun. He says he'll bring the money to a remote location where there's no one around to hear him test his giant gun. Sounds like fun!
    • Go ahead, include the address of the key witness in the case files, even though your superior has explicitly told you not to because the Jackal has a mole in the FBI who will leak that address. No way that can backfire on you and other people.
    • The event that starts this whole mess: you are the brother of the most powerful Russian Mafia leader around, you killed a woman and you left your DNA behind, and you are being arrested by a joint US/Russian police task force. Maybe it's not a good idea to insult them, threaten to kill them and their families and then try to kill them a split second after they ask you to shut up?
  • Trial Run Crime: The Jackal does this, killing the arms dealer who sold him his high-powered gun with that gun, to make sure that it will work when used on his target.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Richard Gere's Irish accent is diabolically awful to say the least.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: The Info Dump on the opening credits explains that The Mafiya grew strong as a result of the climate of "economic misery" brought upon by Perestroika.
  • William Telling: The Jackal tries out his new weapon by having Lamont hold out a pack of cigarettes. He ends up blowing off a good chunk of the poor guy's arm. The aim was off. Then he does a full automatic burst to kill Lamont and blow up his car.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Declan and Isabella see their acts in the IRA and the ETA as justified acts of resistance, where as the FBI and most people see them as terrorists targetting innocents. Declan even defends himself by saying he was a sharpshooter and only targeted soldiers as opposed to the more notorious bombings done by the IRA.