Note: this is about the five-hour long version, not the three or two-hour version.
Carlos the Jackal is known in history as being a terrorist for the Palestinian cause. He is not Palestinian himself, but decides to take up with the cause because they promote the prevalence of Marxism over anything else. As the film opens, you see him talking to a man high up in the Palestinian terrorist cell. He masterminds attacks and political messages that his warriors underneath him obey with conviction. Carlos is seen as idealistic if slightly naive. He proves to this man that he can be trusted and starts carrying out attacks in Paris under the Palestinian name. This film isn’t just about the schemes he masterminds and then pulls off or doesn’t, but about the evolution of a man rising from obscurity and into an egomaniacal public figure with no country to call his own.
One of Carlos most important attacks is his OPEC meeting where he took several country figureheads hostage in order to get support for the Palestinian cause. For several days, these men kept in their meeting room until Carlos managed to procure a plane in order to take several men to their home countries so they could persuade their governments to give money and support to Palestine. If successful, he would have changed history and the U.S. probably would have condemned Iran and Iraq a lot sooner. However in the end, his greed overwhelmed him and gave up the hostages in order to a tidy little sum for the cause. His superior was upset and ousted him. He was now a terrorist without a cause.
His inevitable descent into major arms dealings and several botched terrorist attacks for other causes is really fascinating. If someone believes this much (or at least fools himself into believing) in a cause, what is a man to do when he ousted from the cause? He becomes a terrorist celebrity who bounces from one occupation to another with a small group of totally obedient minions. To be put quite frankly, he becomes a major asshole and a burden to any country who engages his services.
What I like about this miniseries is the psychology behind this man. He dominates and hates women with a vivacity that is strangely fascinating. He proclaims in flowery language ideals and ideas that obviously are not his own. He smokes like a fiend. He isn’t afraid to wax poetically about his love for guns. In fact some of the best scenes between him and his wife is when he is talking about guns and the feeling he gets when he holds one. He gains weight and then loses it again to become a guerilla again. He expertly moves from one country to another playing on their revolutionary tendencies and dominating their language like a madman.
Biopics can be troubling, especially biopics about people who are made out to be demons in the popular and mainstream media. Assayas manages to get into Carlos head and unravel what made him such a controversial and charismatic character. I appreciate that and I think other people who are trying to make biopics should look at this miniseries as a great example of how to do it right.