by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

One of the most widely discussed screenings at Cannes this year was Carlos, which essentially recounts the life of the famed international terrorist Carlos the Jackal during the period 1973-1994. It has a running time of more than five hours, thus placing it somewhere between a film and a mini-series. It was screened as a film at Cannes, but its length distates that it will be shown as a multi-part TV broadcast in most if not all markets.

Is it good?

Yes, I would say that it is. Let me make the case directly and succinctly. Despite its length and the fact that the dialogue is in at least seven different languages without sub-titles (English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Hungarian, Arabic), I watched every minute of it without resorting to the fast-forward button at any time. That, ipso facto, is pretty high praise.

The pace does drag at times during Carlos's periods of inactivity, but in the course of the film several terrorist missions are presented, and they are all exciting thanks to complete directorial control of the dramatic tension and the comprehensibility of the narrative. Director and co-author Olivier Assayas maintained an assured hand over the complex story, and because of that the film is able to present a vast array of characters and foreign dialogue without confusing the audience. It also features some magnificent cinematography in a vast array of exotic locations. Whether the story takes place in Morocco, Vienna, Paris, Khartoum, Budapest, or any of several other locales, the filming seems genuinely to have taken place within those locations. I haven't been to every one of those places, but I've been to many of them, and recognized several familiar sights in each. Credit also needs to go to Edgar Ramirez, the Venezuelan actor who played Carlos at several radically different stages of physical conditioning, and performed in at least five languages, four of which he actually speaks.

Is it accurate?

Again, affirmative. After watching the film I read the entire Carlos entry at Court TV, and found that the film was as faithful as it could possibly be, given the need to compress twenty years into five hours. I noticed only minor and unimportant differences between the Court TV summary and the film's version of the story. You must, of course, realize that it is not possible to present all the details of Carlos' life accurately. While many of the events portrayed in this film took place in public with witnesses, other portions of the film are based on assumptions, prejudiced accounts, second-hand accounts, and Carlos' own dubious claims. From what I could determine, however, the treatment was completely even-handed and fair. Whenever one of the accounts of Carlos' exploits is in doubt, the film tends to avoid pictorializing the incidents themselves, choosing rather to show Carlos describing the action to someone else.

How does Carlos come off?

He's complicated - not likeable by any means, but interesting. He is a highly intelligent man who probably started as a true believer in the Marxist revolution and the cause of Palestine. He had some idealistic goals, a charismatic gift for leadership, a gift for languages, and a cold enough heart to survive as a wanted assassin. In time, however, he was made irrelevant or even embarrassing to the causes he fought for because fame simultaneously stoked his ego and made him too notorious to travel freely. He also had some personality traits which led to ineffectiveness in his later years of freedom. Carlos loved sex, booze, and luxury, thus alienating many of his comrades, from the European socialist idealists who lived in austerity and obscurity, to the devout followers of Islam who considered him a reprobate.

The death knell for Carlos was sounded when the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. Carlos could then no longer rely on the Hungarian government or the East German Stasi to provide him with save havens. He was thus forced to live entirely in the Arab world, but the West continued to exert various forms of pressure on the Middle Eastern nations to abandon their harboring of terrorists, so Carlos kept getting expelled from country after country until his last and only haven was in the corrupt and unreliable Sudan. Eventually he was betrayed by his own bodyguards, who made him available to French intelligence. His capture occurred in the summer of 1994. Carlos was soon convicted in France for multiple murders, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Bottom line:

I am not by any means a fan of this director. I have written very harshly about some of his earlier films, but those comments have absolutely no bearing on what he has done here, which is simply to assemble an excellent project. Before you commit to this film, you must be aware of its length and complexity and the fact that it is performed in many languages. Assuming you have no problem with any of that, I think you'll be impressed and educated. I was.

Not pictured in the film:

Carlos the Jackal (actually a Venezuelan named Ilich Ramirez Sanchez) is still in captivity in Paris, and is still relatively young (60) as I write this. He still manages to make the headlines now and then because France is a civilized nation which allows even convicted murderers a relatively liberal assortment of civil rights. In 2001 the newspapers noted that Carlos had married his female lawyer. In 2003 Carlos even managed to publish a book based on his conversations with a visiting journalist. That work ("Revolutionary Islam") shows that Carlos hasn't mellowed, as he staunchly defends radical Islam, and makes several inflammatory remarks in praise of Saddam Hussein, bin Laden, and other unsavory international figures and causes. He has corresponded with Hugo Chavez, who once called Carlos his friend, and has praised his fellow jackal in various public fora. In 2009 Carlos again made the news when he wrote a letter to Barack Obama. Most recently, Carlos has been filing legal actions against the makers of this very film.


Not available at press time.




The only major review on line at publication time is an ungraded one from The Hollywood Reporter. It is quite positive: "Politically informative, it also offers great drama with excitement and suspense, and no little tragedy. It will attract viewers and cinema audiences around the world. "


7.2 IMDB summary (of 10)







It has not yet been released to theaters or television.







There's quite a bit of nudity, including several scenes with full frontal and rear exposure from ol' Carlos himself. Ramirez played Carlos at various stages of physical fitness, and did nude scenes throughout.

The best action involves the first encounter between Carlos and his future wife Madeleine Kopp. (Nora von Waldstaetten). The actress has a very nice body of you don't mind the pasty white variety.

Part 1 also has some exposure from an actress named Emmanuelle Bercot




Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Excellent project, albeit one destined to end up on PBS or The History Channel.