Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal is one of my favorite comfort flicks. I’ll watch it maybe once a year, and when I do it never fails to engage. What other respected thrillers have been about “how and when will the lead protagonist be stopped from carrying out an evil deed?” and with such impressive finesse? (I can’t think of a single one.) Jackal is so crisp and concise, so well disciplined. And I loved Michael Lonsdale‘s inspector, and Edward Fox was such an attractive and well-behaved sociopath. And so nicely dressed.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the 1997 remake with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, and I don’t even remember it. It did pretty well financially ($159 million) so it must have done something right, but I haven’t the slightest interest in seeing it again.

What if Zinneman’s version and the remake had never been made, and what if, say, Steven Soderbergh had recently directed a just-as-good-as-the-Zinneman version with Ryan Gosling in the lead role, and it was about to be seen and praised at the Venice Film Festival and then open stateside a few weeks later? How would today’s popcorn inhalers respond to it?

Fred Zinnemann’s The Day of the Jackal is one hell of an exciting movie. I wasn’t prepared for how good it really is: it’s not just a suspense classic, but a beautifully executed example of filmmaking. It’s put together like a fine watch. The screenplay meticulously assembles an incredible array of material, and then Zinnemann choreographs it so that the story — complicated as it is — unfolds in almost documentary starkness.

The Day of the Jackal is two and a half hours long, and seems over in about fifteen minutes. There are some words you hesitate to use in a review, because they sound so much like advertising copy, but in this case I can truthfully say that the movie is spellbinding.” — from Roger Ebert‘s Chicago Sun Times review, 7.30.73.