Classy political thriller that doesn’t know gimmicks and never quits. Professional assassin (Edward Fox), code-named “Jackal,” is hired to assassinate notoriously well-guarded French President Charles de Gaulle by military officers disenchanted with the Algerian “surrender.” When French officials learn of the Bastille Day plot they assign ace gendarme Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) to foil it. The stubborn De Gaulle heightens the stakes by refusing to change his itinerary.
Richard Forsythe’s novel gets deft treatment thanks to Fox and Lonsdale, two fine foxes who play a rousing game of cat-and-mouse. Fox’s Jackal, charming and sexually ambiguous, is a cunningly attractive villain, a 007 in reverse. Lonsdale must deal with misdirection and bureaucratic breakdowns, which adds to the story’s considerable credibility. Director Fred Zinnenman (“High Noon,” “A Man for All Seasons”) lets it all play out without meddling. A thriller that fires on all cylinders.