TV Review - Carlos (2010)

Édgar Ramírez as Carlos the Jackal
Carlos was nominated for two Emmy Awards. One was for Outstanding Director. The other was for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries. This nomination went to Édgar Ramírez, 34, from Venezuela who appeared in films like Vantage Point and Domino.

Ramírez stars as Carlos the Jackal, a South American communist who terrorized Europe all in the name of Palestine. Carlos set off bombs and held hostages, resulting in the deaths of civilians and cops. He was not a good guy. He was active for 20 years before he was arrested. Ramírez portrays Carlos in that time period, starting in 1974.

Despite the disclaimer admitting this movie is fictionalized, though based on researched, historical events, filmmaker Olivier Assayas directs this as a distant docudrama. Assayas goes through the major events connected to Carlos and recounts them precisely but at arm's length so that we never really get inside Carlos' head. At times, those events are thrilling but they only scratch the surface of who the man is. We get what happens but not why it happens in terms of deeper understanding.

There is some philosophizing. All of the characters, including Carlos, state how they think capitalism and imperialism and the Jews are the bad guys, but it's all talk. Carlos basically becomes a figure for the Palestinian struggle. Why Carlos, a Venezuelan, gets involved in the Middle East conflict is unclear. Unless you've read every single biography on Carlos prior to this movie, then Carlos' motives will never truly be understood. Some lip service is given to it, but it's hardly enough to sustain this five-hour experience.

Ramírez's performance is pretty consistent. He's always determined and passionate about his cause. He goes from one attack to another, and whether it's in Beirut, Paris or Vienna, he's focused to get what he wants. Unfortunately, it's never clear what his true goal is. There seems to be no end game at play here. I assume that Carlos is aligned himself with the Palestinian agenda, but again that's never made explicit. I suppose that we're supposed to accept him as this villain with radical politics.

The filmmakers could have tried to make this more of a character study. They could have tried digging deeper, but it's all about Carlos' surface here literally. That surface is very reminiscent at times to Che Guevara. At one point, Carlos looks and is dressed similarly to Guevara. Carlos wears a beret and he just seems very close to that iconic image of Guevara. Ramírez's performance could in ways be on homage to Steven Soderbergh's Che.

Prior to Benicio del Toro playing Guevara in that film, Gael García Bernal was Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries (2004), a movie that brilliantly set-up why Guevara felt the way he did, why he did what he would later do, his early experiences that influenced him. Assayas had more time to tell Carlos' story than Soderbergh and certainly more time than Walter Salles, yet we don't get what could be considered Carlos' "motorcycle diary."

Assayas does give us full frontal nudity. The reason may be to show off the fact that Ramírez is a brave and bold actor, totally not afraid to put his dick on display. Ramírez shows us his penis in the opening ten minutes of this story. He then parades around nude, showing off all of the rest of his sexy body. Later, after Carlos goes into hiding, we see him again fully nude, waking from sleep, but only to show how fat and slovenly he's become.

It was Ramírez's Robert De Niro moment, but it's very brief. His fatness is good for only one line. Carlos goes immediately back to his previous, leaner shape very quickly. Showing Ramírez's penis and full naked body, while impressive, then becomes a waste. Assayas wastes time in other ways. Assayas has a 10 or 15-minute sequence on the Japanese Red Army taking hostages in Amsterdam, a sequence that doesn't involve Carlos at all.

Assayas also depicts police investigating and searching for Carlos in 1974. If you're aware of Carlos' history, then you know these scenes are a waste of time as well. There's somewhat of a point when we learn what happens to some of those cops, but this movie is not a police procedural. We're also not supposed to care about the people that Carlos kills.

Carlos is brutal and borderline evil. The series is broken into three parts or three episodes, each about two hours in length. Carlos is the most brutal in part one. Part two, however, has Assayas going all out with a bloody gun battle that's quite intense. Later, we get more examples of Carlos' bigotry.

In a scene in part two, Carlos is talking to a German feminist and he says, "I don't trust women. They never know how to keep their heads." The German feminist named Magdalena responds, "I see you're not afraid of cliches."

This is certainly true. Carlos isn't afraid of cliches and neither is this film, so in the end, I'm not sure what my take-away is. There were some interesting moments here but nothing that held it together.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA for language and violence.
Available on the Sundance Channel.
Running Time: Part One - 1 hr. and 44 mins.
Part Two - 1 hr. and 52 mins.
Part Three - 2 hrs. and 3 mins.


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