Willis in another guise

Montreal metro action doesn’t save The Jackal

Despite climaxing dramatically between two Montreal metros and featuring a decent cast, this 1997 film suffers from glacial pacing, terrible accents and too many wigs.

The Jackal Richard Gere
Richard Gere in The Jackal, shot in Montreal

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The film: The Jackal (1997)

The Jackal metro
Richard Gere at Lionel Groulx

Does Montreal play itself? Yes and no. Part of the film is actually set in Montreal, but our metro system also stands in for Washington, D.C.’s for the climactic showdown between its two stars.

Most egregious local landmark: There are a couple of aerial shots that include many egregious landmarks, but on a more down-to-earth level, there’s nothing more obvious than la Piazzetta on Bernard, where Willis sits down to have a bit of a nosh. We also see him briefly driving around downtown and a small portion of the port is shown, but characters refer to it as “a small town outside Ottawa” which would make Nuns’ Island Ottawa, which is almost certainly accidental satire.

Notable local talent: For a film shot even partially in Montreal, it’s pretty short on local talent. Serge Houde has a couple of scenes as a cop, Maggie Castle (who voices the denim-vested rabbit in Arthur) plays a hostage in the final metro shootout scene and Eric Hoziel (Lance et compte’s mustachioed Mac Templeton) appears as a hired goon who is… uh… killed by touching a car handle doused in poison.

I used to have this theory that the amount of effort Bruce Willis put forth in a role was directly proportional to the amount of hair he was given in said film. It was a theory that eventually proved to be fairly easy to poke holes into since Willis eventually gave in to going fully-bald in all of his roles (although he mostly gave 0 per cent of a shit in these roles) and would’ve proven even easier to dispel had I seen Michael Caton-Jones’s The Jackal at the time. Willis’s role requires him to cycle through a nearly endless amount of wigs and disguises as he personifies the slippery, cunning international hitman Carlos the Jackal, but approximately none of those disguises translate to even the illusion that Willis is trying even a little bit. This general air of weathered malaise translates to the rest of the film, a by-the-numbers action-thriller that’s aged about as well as a half litre of Marquis de Méricourt in the trunk of a junkyard Tercel.

The aforementioned Jackal (Willis) is a highly trained international assassin who accepts a very lucrative assassination gig from a shady Russian mobster. He settles in Montreal to prepare for the hit, which involves tons of laborious busy work and the construction of a high-tech gun mount by a greasy slacker played by Jack Black. Meanwhile, the FBI Deputy Director (Sidney Poitier) requests assistance from a jailed IRA member named Declan Mulqueen (Richard Gere), who has enough history in the shady world of global crime politics that he can identify the mysterious Jackal. Everyone jets all over the world trying to identify and neutralize the Jackal with fairly disappointing results for 104 of the film’s 124 minutes.

For a film predicated on such high-stakes international intrigue, The Jackal plods along nonchalantly for most of its runtime, preferring board rooms and Bruce Willis slowly sailing a boat to Chicago to actual action. The premise in itself is interesting enough (it’s a very loose remake of the Fred Zinnemann film The Day of the Jackal) but it’s done no favours by the laconic pacing and lazy plotting that sees Willis go through all kinds of unnecessary complications including entering a boat race, seducing a male senator in a gay bar, ordering guns from a primitive version of Siri and generally taking the longest way possible between A and B. If the best compliment you can give a thriller is that it’s tight, then The Jackal is loose as hell.

Also contributing to the film’s loose-ass pacing is its parallel storyline, which sees Gere (doing some kind of soulful Leprechaun shtick – I can think of few actors who have sold an Irish accent less in their career), Poitier and scarred Russian agent Diane Venora endlessly plotting ways to capture Willis. If Willis’s character has to remain vague and elusive by nature, the good guys are even less relatable; they’re given a single character trait apiece and told to run hogwild on the exposition, sitting around with various permutations of old white guys in ties (including a young but essentially identical to present-day J.K. Simmons) explaining where Willis might be at any time.

A movie starring both Gere and Willis would’ve been a reasonably big deal in 1997; it sometimes seems designed to give audiences a glimpse at its leads above all else. It hearkens back to a time when movie stars were often more important than the movies they were in, and A-list male stars seemed contractually obligated to make at least one cookie-cutter thriller a year to line video store shelves. I had always set The Jackal apart from those Red Corners and Mercury Risings in my mind, probably because of its connection with the Zinnemann classic, but it turns out there needs to be more to a thriller than a plethora of wigs.

Read about more films Made in MTL here.

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