Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas & Dan Franck (screenplay)
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Nora von Waldstätten, Alexander Scheer, and Ahmad Kaabour
Five-and-a-half hours in the shoes of a terrorist that most people have forgotten about isn’t somewhere most people would want to spend their time. Yet Carlos, the expansive epic from French director Olivier Assayas, moves through its unheard of length with enough energy to fuel five American action classics. That fuel isn’t powered by explosions and gunfire, but by the sheer intrigue of the story and the mythic figure being deconstructed at its center.
Carlos The Jackal, a native Venezuelan, began as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez before he decided to revolt against Israel as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). He moves from minor assassinations to bombings to bossing rather quickly.
One big surprise in Carlos is how the director shows us how many of these terrorist attacks were botched. It becomes clear early on, when the murders are up close and more complicated than a gunshot, that Assayas isn’t idolizing his criminal. Carlos may think he’s Scarface, clutching his testicles in front of a mirror after pulling off an attack, but his constant failures and the desperate way Edgar Ramirez portrays him show otherwise.