Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Movie Review: Carlos

Oliver Assayas' sprawling 5 hour epic Carlos deals with the life of infamous terrorist Carlos the Jackal, the famous 1970s terrorist that organized the OPEC Hostage Crisis.  As said earlier, the film is sprawling in the truest sense: set in 16 different countries and featuring many languages, the film does a very good job of keeping its details straight with regards to the countries that Carlos lived in and how he interacted with various people.  This brings up question:  How does a filmmaker go about making a film about terrorist in this day age of the so-called "War on Terror"?

For Assayas, he decides to go the route of treating his terrorist as a rock star in the first half of the film.  At the beginning of the film, Carlos is a young revolutionary who believes he can do no wrong and stares at himself in the mirror while he is naked.  He is dynamic compared to the rest of his comrades and even considers himself to be a celebrity in the mold of Che Guevara or Mick Jagger.  As the film progresses, Carlos' excesses end up catching up with him: he becomes fat, loses the support of his allies, and ends up with testicular problems.  The latter being no doubt a symbol for Carlos' last days on the run.  This character arc is the strongest point of the film.  Its rare these days for a film to have completely fleshed out characters and it is fortunate that Assayas to make Carlos a clear ambiguous character, one that you end up rooting for and rooting against.  Hollywood should take notice of this character arc and realize that audiences prefer characters that are completely fleshed out instead of composites of typical arcs.

Another worthy point of consideration is Edgar Ramirez' amazing transformation as Carlos.  As stated before, Carlos undergoes a huge transformation from rock star terrorist to fat slob and back again in the space of five hours, and amazingly Ramirez goes along with the character.  He is able to turn Carlos into a real human being with all of its flaws.  It also probably helps that like the real Carlos, Ramirez is Venezuelan, which helps bring a certain believability to the character.

The only criticism of Carlos has to be the slow part at the end of Part 2.  Although the film does a good job of pacing, considering that it is a five hour long movie, I personally felt that the film dragged a bit toward the end of part 2 and could have used some cutting up or trimming.  Other than that, Carlos is an effective character study of one of the most interesting enigmas of the 20th century and features tight action and great performances.