Good performance by Edgar Ramirez as Carlos.
Carlos is played by Edgar Ramirez (Domino, Zero Dark Thrity) who gives one of cinema's (and television's) finest recent performances. He deftly portrays a charming monster, a man who exploits the tribulations of others and foreign political strife to quench his own thirst for power. We never really like Carlos, but the film does a great job of making us understand him... rendering his journey through a world of violence, greed,and betrayal an utterly absorbing one.
Assayas makes a film far removed from the warmth and grace of his 2009 "Summer Hours," but his exquisite characterization remains. He masterfully handles forcefully scenes of gritty action and violence as well as the potentially overwhelming flow of historical fact and figures. The single greatest strength of Carlos is how accessible if feels. A lot of information assaults the audience yet it all feels manageable and fluid. The scope is daunting but Assayas keeps it grounded enough to grasp.
"Carlos" is a standout character study; a true modern epic that needs to be seen in any form. Undoubtedly though the miniseries is the way to go. Assayas' assured direction and the incendiary performance of Ramirez can't be ignored. It's brilliant.
My one complaint is that it doesn't go into his life before becoming a terrorist or his childhood, which seems like ripe subjects that such a far reaching film such as this would touch on. But, that's a small complaint.
At its best, it is a meticulous look at career terrorism. The highs and the lows, the bombs and the blows, and every blue print in between. It is a fascinating look at the life of an extreme ideologue as he ditches every tail and cleans up the messes made by his partners. Every new hurdle slowly eats away at his overall goal of a global revolution, draining his energy and the audience's as well. Yet, while his moxie may be gradually diminishing, he never once appears to want to call it a day.
Carlos is uncommonly obdurate and clings stubbornly to the belief that the world needs him. When in reality - in an observation made by a fellow Syrian terrorist - it is evident that Carlos needs these terrorist acts in order to give his life meaning. So even though many of his plans crumble, he quickly leap frogs to the next project. Knowing deep down that were he to stop, he would just be a senseless murderer. Not that he was without backing. In fact, he was courted by many regimes, but clearly his ego was writing checks that he could not feasibly cash.
In meticulous and often exhaustive detail, Carlos and his gang are shown planning an attack on an OPEC conference and executing, pardon the pun, an attempted assassination plot on Anwar Sadat. Although six hours of these scenes can be laborious to sit through, its extensive length actually works in the favor of the narrative. After watching Carlos' extensive exploits for many hours, it helps the audience better understand his future actions. Primarily, it helps illuminate why Carlos begins to grow restless. The OPEC conference aside, Carlos must deal with botched job after botched job. He becomes more desperate with every passing year and his inability to start a global revolution breeds discontentment. Subsequently, his actions becomes more brazen. His idealism begins to give way to egoism and becomes a hazy concoction of ideology driven hubris.
Edgar Ramirez is superb as the amoral man of conviction. There is a quiet intensity to him that makes it very difficult to take your eyes off of. It could have been so easy to play Carlos as an over the top megalomaniacal criminal mastermind, but he abstains from doing so. Thankfully Ramirez forgoes the headlines and gives us the fine print. I hope this role opens up more doors for this talented actor.
Carlos is quite a journey and not one that I will probably take again this decade. However, it is a unique and well-acted film about what it truly means to live and die for a cause. No matter how futile it can seem at times.
"Carlos" is an epic speculation and portrait of a terrorist as a preening narcissist that spans countries, and languages, both too numberous to recount. Surprisingly for his inconsistent track record, Olivier Assayas holds it all together in a movie that is compelling throughout, despite its sequential structure. As one character calling him a mercenary might not be exactly fair, as Carlos has some idealism, it is true that he might be in it also for the women and guns. While initially talking about victory, it turns out his legacy will involve nothing more than a long string of bodies. He is only one of any amount of militants who are so enamored of their causes that they have their heads so far up their collective asses that they miss the little details(of which the movie is rather fond of) that lead to ruin or how the world is really run. In a way the movie makes a case for the existence of state sponsored terrorism in that certain countries have a symbiotic relationship with the terrorists living within their borders. And since they are usually police states, they have a pretty good idea of what everybody is up to. At the same time, some people will not be thrilled to learn Yasser Arafat was not the root of all evil.
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