A Theater Near You: Carlos

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When you make a biopic and the real-life subject sues you, you know you’re on to something. Especially when that guy is in jail for for life because he killed a couple of French secret agents. Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos “El Chacal” (the Jackal), was infamous in the seventies and eighties for his globe-trotting crimes. The native Venezolano was a terrorist to some and a revolutionary hero to others. He is the subject of the epic 5-1/2 hour mini-series Carlos. After joining the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and training in Jordan, el Chacal went on a world tour of terror that included car bombings, kidnapping attempts, grenade attacks and shooting sprees. And of course, lots of love affairs with pretty ladies.

The $18 million dollar budget allowed the director to shoot on location in France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon, and Morocco. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and the 5-plus hours fly by. And yeah, it definitely romanticizes a guy who essentially went on a twenty-year killing spree. But the movie semi-convinces you that well, he did it for a good cause, right? In explaining his new militancy to a doubting lady friend Carlos affirms that, “detrás de cada bala va haber una idea.” Still, he’s gotta be the world’s sleaziest revolutionary. In one particular scene his macho bravado is just laughable. He tries to impress his newest conquest by showing off his arsenal of weapons. He proceeds to convince her to suck on a hand grenade because, “the weapon is just an extension of my body.” Somehow Édgar Ramírez, the actor who plays Carlos, makes this line believable. It couldn’t have been easy to find an actor to play a revolutionary playboy who speaks multiple languages but Ramírez is a perfect fit. He’s magnetic, he’s got swagger, and he’s an amazing actor. Sitting down to watch Carlos is definitely a commitment. It’s a long ride but by end you’ll be mesmerized by Ramírez and so wrapped up in the action you won’t want it to end.

Director: Olivier Assayas
Country: France/Germany, 2010, 339 minutes
Language: English, Arabic, German, Spanish, French, Russian

Where You Can Watch it:

There are two versions out there. If I were you, I’d want the whole enchilada (the full three-episode mini-series.) Yeah, it’s 5-1/2 hours but, it’s so worth it. The full series is streaming on Netflix. And for the cine-nerds Criterion released the entire mini-series on a Special Edition DVD and Blu-Ray loaded with bonus features, documentaries, cast and Director interviews, plus a booklet with essays. Those of you with short attention spans can watch the 2-1/2 hour theatrical cut on Netflix or Amazon.