So I know we’ve all been watching The Playboy Club on NBC… I’m kidding. If you have seen that show, stop reading my blog (Seriously, you’re not welcome here). But this Tuesday the Criterion Collection drops Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, the three-part, 339-minute biopic recounting the adventures of Illich Ramirez Sanchez, or Carlos the Jackal (Interestingly enough, not once in the 339-minutes is the phrase “Carlos the Jackal” uttered.) Anyone who has flipped to the Sundance Channel since this past June has likely seen it at least once or twice (It’s been airing back-to-back-to-back pretty much all weekend.) So the epic (code for: long-winded) and the action-packed are not generally my cup of tea. However, between Criterion giving the film its stamp of approval and Assayas’ ass in the director’s chair and the fact that Carlos the Jackal is (emphasis on present-tense, as he is still alive) a badass motherfucker, I figured I’d give it a shot. It’s not exactly my thing, but it was alright for what it was (I found myself recommending it to aunts, uncles, and students of mine.) (Would it be pretentious or douchey to say that Part I was alright, Part II was really good, and Part III sucked pretty severely?) However, from the opening moments, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had just sat through this… Ahhh, yes, wasn’t it just last year that Mesrine hit American theaters (or at least the good ones)?
Okay, wait, so let me back up. I’m willing to indulge in the fact that you may not know who Carlos the Jackal (or Mesrine) is and I won’t condescend to you… just yet. Carlos the Jackal is an international “terrorist” (If you think terrorism is inherently a bad thing, you should consider the quotation marks. But if you don’t think it’s necessarily negative, you can ignore them.) Since the 1960s he has been fighting (and, to be fair, killing) for things such as communism, Islam, and a laundry list of other “causes” that are generally viewed in a less-than-friendly manner by the Western side of the world. He’s worked with the likes of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a handful of other revolutionary groups that aren’t exactly opposed to blood in the streets. His life (particularly as it is emphasized in this biopic) has more or less been a series of detonations (literally), hostage situations, and illicit sexual encounters (Pretty awesome, huh?) He is what Morrissey would call an “International Playboy” (For the record, I actually don’t know Moz’s take on Carlos.) In other words, a high-class, highly-trained/educated “criminal,”… He lives a life that most of us only experience through a Michael Bay film… see: Anti-Heroes in a time of bank robberies, prison-breaks, and atomic warfare.
Jacques Mesrine was (emphasis on past-tense) also an International Playboy, although his circumstances were more along the lines of a “gangster” (a phrase considered far more sexy and positive than “terrorist” by the average Westerner… for better or worse). His biography consisted of countless robberies, kidnappings (including that of a judge attempting to sentence him… yeah, pretty awesome, huh?), and, most appealingly, hot, international broads. He robbed countless banks, escaped from numerous prisons, and was ultimately assassinated by French police at an intersection of Porte de Clignancourt in an epic bloodbath that would make Ian Curtis’ death seem lackluster (at least according to the movie). Well, in 2008 Jean-Francois Richet made a two-part, 246-minute film chronicling his exploits. It starred Vincent Cassel, as our anti-hero, and bared more than a passing similarity to Carlos. And like Carlos, this film wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea but, for what it was, it was exciting on some level (To be a pretentious douche again, the first part was actually quite terrible, filled with the cliqued one-liners of a Sly Stallone movie, however, the second part was actually pretty legitimately awesome.)
…So, what is the point of my glorifying these “criminals” and the recent cinema that has celebrated them? Well… if we’re going to heroicise obnoxious, fat fucks like Tony Soprano for murder, we may as well at least give credit where credit is due to guys who were able to transgress the legal system and actually maintain a level of “cool” (If this still seems alien to you, think Al Capone.) So I’m curious, which of these two “International Playboys” do you find to be more “sexy?” There’s Carlos, who has the beauty of revolution and social reform on his side. And then there’s Mesrine… who really seemed to commit crimes for the sake of maintaining a celeb status (which may actually be more badass)… he’s sort of like Paris Hilton with a semi-automatic weapon.