Carlos, the film, chronicles the life, and often-bungled operations, of infamous Venezualan terrorist Illich Ramirez Sanchez, aka. ‘Carlos the Jackal’ in service to various Marxist and Islamicist fronts (bankrolled by Syria, Libya and oh, yes — Iraq).
For one so fervently committed to “anti-imperialism”, the end of the Cold War must have been quite disillusioning. The toppling of the Berlin Wall and unification of Germany, the downfall of the Soviet Union, the implosion of the Socialist bloc, the mass revolt sweeping across Europe — the culmination of these events left the once proud, once feared, once notorious “Carlos the Jackal” a relic of ages past, now bereft of support and shelter. You almost feel sorry for the guy:Syria wants nothing to do with him; he flees to Libya, and is likewise informed that his presence is “unwanted”. He country-hops until he finds refuge in Khartoum, offering his services to the Islamic revolution. In the end, he is handed over to the French authorities by his own personal bodyguards.
Carlos now serves life imprisonment in Clairvaux Prison for the murder of two French secret agents and an informant. In November 2011 he will stand trial again, this time for his alleged role in 4 deadly terror bombings in the early 1980’s.
For a film made in 2010, I found Carlos‘ ability to capture the appearance and atmosphere of the 1960’s amazing — from the fashion, decor, vehicles, to the soundtrack (largely featuring the post-punk group ‘Wire‘). It is similar in feel to Spielberg’s Munich, howbeit several hours longer (330 minutes!) and disappointingly lacking in moral substance. For example, whereas in Munich the Israeli agents tasked with eliminating the masterminds of the Munich Olympics massacre were presented as morally conflicted about adopting the tactics of assassination, Carlos feels absolutely no compunction about tossing a grenade into a Jewish-owned pharmacy, bombing a bank or a passenger train — all in the name of “the revolution.”
Cinematically well done, Carlos the movie contains a great deal of plotting but is light on substance; for one who claims to have imbibed Marxist “dialectics” Carlos the man comes across as a vapid, narcissistic playboy with an itchy trigger finger — his surface commitment to “the oppressed” excluding the dozens of women he willfully uses, abuses and discards over the course of his career (how’s that “sexual liberation” working out for you?).
That said, you do get a clone of the Slovenian Marxist theorist Slavoj Zizek playing one of Carlos revolutionary sidekicks.