Wow, I had no idea just how dangerous Carlos Santana was in his spare time. Oh sorry, this is some other Carlos, it's just that after Santana worked with Steven Tyler for that mediocre 2005 song "Just Feel Better" (Man, not even the good classic musicians make good music anymore, but at least Santana can still rock that guitar), I can't help but associate him with a jackal. Yeah, I'm thinking that the nickname "Jackal" is better suited for Steven Tyler, considering that he looks like a jackal, though when it comes to being honored as a master of artillery, I've got to give it up to my man Ilich Ramirez Sánchez (Where did he come up Carlos?) here, because even his biopic just about made my head explode, not just simply because it's a five-and-a-half-hour-long miniseries, but because it has way too many nationalities and languages bunched together for my mind to handle for the aforementioned five-and-a-half hours. It's a French-German series about a Venezuelan with speaking moments of English, French, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian (Oh wait, I already said Spanish), Arabic, German, Russian, Dutch and Japanese. If Steven Tyler really were to walk into frame and start doing his crazy scat/throat-click hybrid language, which is hard enough to keep up with when it's on its own, my head actually would have exploded. It just about blew the critics' minds, because they were eating it up, and I'm sorry, but I'm gonna have to pull back on that. Hey, don't get me wrong, this is still quite the good miniseries, as well it should be if it's going to keep me stuck with it for five-and-a-half hours, yet the saga doesn't make it out without some battle scars.
I don't know how much things smoothed out in the considerably tighter just three-hour-long German film cut, the little over two-and-a-half-hour-long UK film cut or the little under two-and-a-half-hour-long US film cut, but at five-and-a-half hours, the miniseries is no short ride (The fact that they shaved off over three hours for the US film cut should tell you what you're in for), especially when you consider that the subject matter, while fairly complex, doesn't quite warrant such a sprawling runtime, and it's not about to let you forget that. The series goes excessively bloated through repetition and superfluous aspects, a fair couple of which don't completely sync up, in terms of relevance to the main story, leaving the series uneven on occasions. The gratuitously overwhelming runtime is obtained through everything going on way too long, particularly during the final act - which then has the nerve to end this series on a cop-out -, until after a while, steam goes limp until something actually happens, and believe me, that's no brief waiting period, partially because this series doesn't have much immediate steam to begin with. Outside of the occasional weak visual effect, due to those blasted budget limitations, the series really is like a film, complete with cliches and other collapses into conventions found in films of this type, as well as the committing of a great sin that far too many films of this type commit and no miniseries of this length should commit. Ladies and gentlemen, the central problem with the series is simply that it is just plain dull, if not all-out boring for long lapses of time during its five-and-a-half hours, being pin-drop quiet, with baby tooth-loose editing that leave nothing but nothingness to spill in at will, making for an experience that isn't quite tedious, though somewhat challenging, as you will not make it far through the first episode, alone, before you start checking your watch. Still, more of a challenge is giving up on the final product, all together, because although it's quite considerably flawed, it is not without redemption. For every false move, there is a regaining of footing that ultimately leaves the series standing strong and with many a high point, some of which involving aspects that are scarce, but impacting upon arrival.
Being that the series is so quiet, the soundtrack ever so rarely comes into play, yet when it does, it's nifty in its sounds and its affect on the tone, for most all of the tracks, with the exception of The Feelies' really bad "Forces at Work", The Dead Boys' following and unbearable "Sonic Reducer" and Wire's really obnoxious "Drill" (You're bound to get sick of Wire eventually, though I figured it would take the first song on the tracklist, not the third out of four; Wow, whoever put together the soundtrack sure likes Wire), this soundtrack has some nifty tunes, many of which really liven up the tone for the slim amount of time they're present, something that can be said about the handsome and, at times, affecting cinematography. Still, perhaps the reason why they don't play the soundtrack too often is because, on occasions, this thing doesn't need music to establish tone, even though I still kind of wish that they did, because, seriously, when there are no tunes, more often than not, things slow nearly to a crawl. However, when things get real, intrigue hits the scene, making all of the excessiveness and quietness within the more tense moments not simply hardly noticable, but actually supplementary to the tension, leaving the series to meditate upon the atmosphere and consequence to where you soon find yourself on the edge of your seat, only to soon be knocked clean out of it when the bullets begin to fly, especially when you consider how well director Olivier Assayas works with some of the action. The good deal of moments of airtight tension and intrigue are worth waiting for, yet between those are immensely more prevalent moments of slowness, and even then, when they cut out the nothingness and explore substance and exposition to a certain degree, it's hard to fall out of the series, as the story is just so fascinating, if not engrossing in some spots, being really brought to life by Assayas' intrigue, as well as the inspired and memorable performances. Every person has a role, and their significance is made palpable through the very distinctive and very effective atmospheres that loom over our performers, with leading man Édgar Ramírez boasting the strongest presence of all. Ramirez is surprisingly rarely asked to break from a confident and authoritative presence, yet it's hard to mind, as he plays it with such strong charisma and borderline transformativeness that really grips you, which of course makes it all the more satisfying when Ramirez really is given the opportunity to into the depths of Ilich Ramírez "Carlos the Jackal" Sánchez and does so with compelling layers, as well as effortless and sometimes emotional confidence that really cuts into the humanity of our very rocky protagonist. Yes, the saga is just much too long and slow, yet where it could have collapsed as a bore, it redeems itself by making many a right move for every false move, and while that's certainly not enough to bring it up to the level of quality promised by the critics, it's certainly enough to make this a rewarding watch, overlong though, it may be.
Overall, at least as a miniseries, the saga is bloated to no end by excessive repetition and expendable material, as well as long periods of nothingness, yet this gratutious elongation is merely an exacerbator of the series' core problem, extreme slowness, which leaves the series to lose steam is quite a few spots, as you simply can not afford to be all but entirely slow for five-and-a-half hours, unless, of course, you can redeem yourself with many strong moves, something that this series is filled with, boasting the occasional use of a lively soundtrack and moments of chilling tension to break up consistent intrigue that is absorbed from the compelling story by Olivier Assayas' inspired direction and a talented cast, headed by an engrossing Édgar Ramírez, thus leaving "Carlos" to stand as a mostly engaging and ultimately satisfying study on the notorious terrorist.
3/5 - Good