The rest of the film follows two parallel plotlines: The Jackal preparing for the assassination and the French authorities learning about the Jackal's mission and trying to stop him. The latter plotline is initially difficult to follow because characters float in and out of the narrative as the assassination attempt comes to light as bits of evidence are pieced together. A central hero finally comes into focus when Lebel (Michael Lonsdale)--the "best detective in France" according to the police commissioner--is appointed to head the investigation.
|The Jackal inspects his newly-made rifle.|
It's only when the Jackal murders an innocent woman--as the climax approaches--that the viewer truly realizes the Jackal is a ruthless killer unworthy of admiration. Subsequent murders reinforce this critical point so that, as the Jackal takes aim at de Gaulle, the audience is rooting appropriately for Lebel and his cohorts to stop the Jackal. Still, it's an interesting experience to realize how much one's emotions have been subtly manipulated up to that point.
Edward Fox, who spent most of his acting career playing military officers and upper-class Englishmen, portrays the Jackal as a well-organized, no-nonsense businessman. Zinnemann chose him over better-known actors, such as Michael Caine, because he wanted to cast an unknown actor in the lead role. It's a smart decision because it makes the Jackal a nondescript mystery man. In fact, except for what we see of the Jackal, nothing is revealed about his character--there's no backstory and not much be gained from his relationships with other people.
|Michael Lonsdale as Ledel.|
I first saw The Day of the Jackal in 1973 when my sister was working at a movie theatre. I would tag along with her when she went to work and then watch the current attraction multiple times until her shift was over. At the time, I had never heard of The Day of the Jackal nor anyone in the cast. But, by the time the evening was over, I was a fan of this highly-manipulative, but exceeding well-made thriller. I've seen the 1997 remake, The Jackal, which is decent enough...but it can't compare to the enthralling original.