This film is a tour de force by a gifted director and a brilliant new actor. It is 350 minutes long and split into 3 episodes over 3 DVDs, but I was sorry when it ended. Edgar Ramirez played the central character of Carlos with so much understated style and simmering violence, he was fascinating to watch. I have lived through Carlos' entire career, some of the time in Paris, and this film is so believable. It is not a documentary. The director himself points out in an interview on disc 3 that it is part fact, part fiction, because he had to fictionalise events that are not documented, but it is evident that he had a lot of research material to work from. For many years the authorities had only one indistinct photograph of Carlos, who was also a master of disguise and a chameleon who could change his appearance, and, of course, changed naturally over the years. That is all apparent in this film. The man matures as the film progresses but his basic nature does not change. He was dangerous. He scares people but also excites them. He used the media to his own ends. He was a marxist, he said, and later converted to Islam but one always has the impression that he really only believes in himself and his own agenda. He and his faithful German sidekick Weinrich would visit their paymasters looking like a couple of businessmen doing a deal, and they had contacts throughout the world of revolutionaries, from Moscow to Tripoli, East Germany to the Basque territories. They used the Stasi by playing the Soviet card when it suited them; they used terror to browbeat the Hungarian secret service into cooperating with them. They used the PFLP as a cover for some of their worst atrocities such as the killings in the Rue Marbeuf in Paris, or the OPEC kidnappings in Vienna. The interaction between Carlos and Sheikh Yamani is a superb little vignette, played against a background of unremitting violence.
A word about language. It is billed as being in French with English subtitles. In fact everyone speaks their own language, so much of the film actually takes place in English. There are sequences in Arabic, in Spanish, in German, in French and in other languages. Carlos speaks Arabic with Arabs, French with Frenchmen, German with Germans, Spanish with South Americans and English with almost everyone else. All except the English sequences are subtitled in English, but as I speak French and German in addition to my native English and understand Spanish and some Arabic it was no trouble for me to follow everything. The body language and continuity also contribute to the flow. My German girlfriend had no trouble following it either.
Edgar Ramirez with his multilingualism and his quiet-spoken manner interspersed with outbreaks of terrifying violence is a great discovery. He plays Carlos so convoncingly that it is easy to forget that he is acting. This from a man in his first rôle is amazing. Despite its length I shall watch this film again and again. It is spellbinding. It is worthy of general release but is too long for the cinema. Canal+ made it for TV but it is a crossover between TV and cinema. It is reminiscent of the Baader Meinhof Complex and Mesrine both of which have comparable qualities, but, in my view, it surpasses both of these admirable productions. As I said at the beginning, a tour de force, a major work that deserves a wide audience. I cannot recommend it highly enough.