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Carlos' teammates also commit the terrorist blunder of thinking local, not global. Ready and able to seize European and Arab diplomats for "collaborating" with Washington, they never thought to fly into the belly of the Great Satan and blow up things and people in the U.S. (That bright idea would be left to a later generation.) And even when they think big, someone steals their thunder. In one startling scene, Yuri Andropov then the head of the Soviet KGB, later Premier of the U.S.S.R. convenes a meeting with Carlos and other heavy hitters and announces he will pay big bucks for the death of "the Big Boss" Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Alas for the conference of thugs, Sadat was murdered in 1981 in accordance with a fatwa approved by Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind sheik behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
A radical stud need not be a feminist. Convention dictates, in fact, that he be surrounded by women, and Carlos has plenty: a wife and child he leaves behind in London; the German radical Magdalena Koff (Nora von Waldstatten, exuding a feline sexuality that Hollywood should take immediate notice of), who wants to go on kills but is kept around for ornamental value; and his young Muslim wife Lana (Razane Jammal). In between he has lots of quickies with available females; even Magdalena is stolen from his closest rebel colleague, Johannes Weinreich (Alexander Scheer). To Carlos, women are more valuable as objects to relieve sexual tension than as comrades in arms. Indeed, his most intimate accomplices are his guns. "Weapons are meant to be treated gently," he declares, whether aware or not of the phallic implications. "Weapons are an extension of my body." And women are its servants.
A terrorist who is as famous as a rock star should remember than rock stars fade; in 1989, when Carlos turned 40, the Berlin Wall fell and, with it, the hopes of the revolutionary class for political change through violence. Arab and Eastern-bloc countries that once harbored him now can't stand the heat. A Syrian colonel, issuing a deportation notice to Carlos, says, "You must leave Syria. There is no Socialist bloc. The Cold War is over." The Jackal has become a rock star past his prime perhaps, counting the OPEC snatch, merely a one-hit wonder and if he tried to go out on an oldies tour, he'd be arrested.
Assayas aims high with his big, bright movie. He makes explicit reference to two bio-pic masterpieces in whose company he might like Carlos to reside. One is Francis Coppola's The Godfather, another synoptic saga about a crime family; in one of the few scenes in the film where Carlos looks as if he's having real fun, he plays merrily with his child in a garden, as Brando's Vito Corleone did with his grandchild. The other is David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, which traces the rise of a non-Arab leader of an Arab revolt, and whose charismatic hero becomes disillusioned in the diminuendo second half. Carlos is shown teaching the martial strategies of T.E. Lawrence to a classroom of bored students in Sudan.
Of course, this is no liberator of the Arab people, or even the Palestinians; he is the murderer of many civilians, most of them innocent, who died for his cause. And Carlos, while matching the Coppola and Lean films in length and breadth, misses out on depth. The picture is a series of enticing vignettes, all of which have the pleasures of melodrama and the suspense of wondering who's to be blown up next. No masterpiece, Assayas' movie is a fast-paced, knowing trip through two decades of violence on two continents. And at the center is the predatory Jackal, Lawrence of Terroria.