Michael Caton-Jones’s 1997 thriller The Jackal, memorable for being the last theatrical film Sidney Poitier ever made and for featuring Bruce Willis with roughly ten different hairstyles and disguises, finally makes its way to high definition Blu-ray. The question is should you pick up the film again?
Caton-Jones’s picture stars Bruce Willis as the disguise-wearing assassin known as The Jackal. He gets drafted by the Russian mob for a special hit on American soil. Sidney Deputy Director of the FBI, Carter Preston (Sidney Poitier), and Major Valentina Koslova (Diane Venora), a Russian agent working with the FBI, recognize that they’ll need all the help they can get to catch a killer some aren’t sure even exists.
Enter Richard Gere’s Declan Mulqueen, a former IRA assassin now spending his time in an American jail. Mulqueen eventually decides to help the agents track The Jackal for his own personal reasons and what transpires is a rather uninspiring race-against-time thriller. The film lacks a real sense of urgency even though the stakes are pretty high while Gere’s Mulqueen, and his intimate knowledge of The Jackal and wholesale acceptance by the FBI, starts to wear thin by the end of the movie.
Meanwhile, Willis’s disguises add a ridiculousness to what is already at times an unintentionally funny film although Willis does give an interesting performance as a bad guy. Overall it’s an okay film the first time round with a few twists along the way but there’s not a lot to warrant further watching, except for a brilliant Blu-ray transfer, right?
Wrong. Well, not entirely. The transfer isn’t completely terrible, it’s just not remarkable or the type of thing that screams "must buy." The transfer keeps the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It reveals some graininess and imperfections in the image, especially on wide-angle shots like the closing scene (also evident in the 2002 Collector’s Edition DVD). However it remains to be seen whether these imperfections represent what the actual theatrical print was like. The instances where these imperfections are noticeable are also few and far between so they don’t affect the viewing experience.
Certain scenes also display real clarity of color. For instance the last minivan The Jackal uses is a deep red with black tinted windows. The red and black on the car are very clear and really quite striking. Sadly that sort of clarity isn’t consistent throughout the film and the picture just lacks an overall sense of depth. Finally, as far as the picture is concerned, the Blu-ray actually hurts some of the visual effects. Several times the background is made to look very fake due to the actor standing in front of it appearing very sharply defined while the background takes on a bit of blurriness. I’m not sure if this is a problem a lot of films face due to high definition transfers but it was something I noticed in this one.
The sound, DTS-HD MA 5.1, is actually quite well done. The film features several scenes that take place in a club and the enhanced soundtrack really captures the club feel with the loud music really getting the subwoofer working. The soundtrack also drones out those who don’t shout their lines, giving the scenes a bit of authenticity. A couple of times I thought the sound editing for the dialogue was a little muffled. In particular there is a phone conversation undertaken by The Jackal, which I assumed was important, but I couldn’t make out what the person on the other line was saying. Their voice filters in clear and then filters out again.
Probably the best combination of sound and picture, and the most stunning scene in the film, is the Gatling gun test scene. Willis wants to test out his weapon of choice for the assigned assassination, a remote-controlled Gatling gun on a custom built stand. When Willis fires off the first test shot the sound of the bullet rings out through all the speakers, fully utilizing the surround sound. If you hadn’t been paying attention the sound of the gun will certainly make you snap to. Willis then proceeds to blow up a car with the gun and the resulting explosion looks brilliant in HD. The flame and smoke effects are really clear while looking very realistic as they have a real depth to them.
As far as special features go, it comes with a making of feature and feature commentary from the director. These special features only appear on the DVD side. That’s right — Universal’s The Jackal utilizes the double-sided disc technology that has recently been introduced to Blu-rays. This means that the disc features no artwork and is extremely susceptible to fingerprint smudges, a real nuisance. The special features themselves are fairly similar to the ones already available on the Collector’s Edition so they don’t add a whole lot of new information while the choice to only put them on one side, particularly the DVD side, is strange. The disc also has a bit of a loading time when you first put it in your player. It’s even worse if you happen to play it on your Internet-connected PlayStation 3 as it tries to connect to BD Live to show you some trailers.
Overall The Jackal is a good yet unremarkable Blu-ray transfer. I was hoping one or two more scenes would have really popped in HD but they really didn’t. Meanwhile the film itself is average at best meaning it’s hard to tell you to go out and buy it. Probably wise to wait for one of those two-for-one deals if you really want it.