Monday 18 October 2010

Carlos review

Carlos (15, 165 mins)
Director: Olivier Assayas
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

There’s a disclaimer at the beginning of Carlos stating that much of what is to follow is fictionalised. Given that, you may have had a right to expect something a good deal more involving than this plodding account of the career of Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, aka Carlos the Jackal.

From being recruited in 1973 to his arrest and imprisonment in the 90s, we follow his reign of assassinations and bombings throughout Europe, with Saddam Hussein numbering among his fans and associates. His goal is a campaign of terror to unite revolutionary groups around the world and his notoriety turns him into a celebrity, but it’s never demonstrated just why this is.

As presented here, Carlos is a far from compelling central character who proves himself to be nothing but a lot of talk and a gun. He may start out as charismatic but our interest wanes as the film progresses and he never proves himself to be particularly skilled or useful. One scene where he has to plead with his Lebanese boss that he can do better if given the chance plays like something from The Apprentice.

Like the very similar Baader Meinhof Complex before it, the problem is that for all its style and technical bravura, the film is nothing more than a sprawling collection of incidents, throwing around a lot of historical names and events to little effect.

A solid, but not revelatory turn from Édgar Ramírez in the title role lifts some of the burden, and he impresses whether speaking his dialogue in English, Spanish, French or Arabic. But with most of the characters speaking English most of the time, quite a few of the foreign actors struggle to give convincing performances.

A lengthy hostage sequence in the middle eats up a good portion of the running time but gets us nowhere and for the most part it’s a bit of a slog. At two and three quarter hours, this is the short version, with those who can stomach it able to seek out the full five and a half hour cut made for French television if they so wish.

But for all that spending the same amount of time again in this company sounds like a cinematic nightmare, it may fill in a lot of holes and prove to be more cohesive than this version, particularly in an extremely choppy final hour that consists almost entirely of Carlos moving from country to country looking for sanctuary or being struck down with mysterious ailments without explanation.

Ultimately your appreciation of Carlos may depend a great deal on how you feel about watching terrorists in silly hats sitting around talking about Leninism.

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