December 8, 2010 -- In the revolutionary tide that swept the world in the 1970s, two of the best-known revolutionaries of that time came out of South America, and both have had epic films made about them in the past two years. Poster boy of the left, Ernesto Che Guevara of Argentina, better known by his simplified poster and t-shirt title of “Che” and Ilich Ramírez Sánchez of Venezuela, better known as “Carlos the Jackal,” came from the same part of the world and the same end of the political spectrum, but they turned out to be quite different in the end.
While the films Che (parts 1 and 2) run a total of 4.5 hours, it seems a lot longer than the three-part miniseries Carlos which runs a total of 5.7 hours. That's because the pace of “Carlos” is faster, there is more action, and when there is no action there is nudity, sex, political intrigue and domestic flareups. While Che was a blue collar revolutionary, slogging through jungles and overthrowing governments, Carlos was like a terrorist version of James Bond, a high-living, jet-setting playboy terrorist for hire. If you needed someone assassinated, a newspaper bombed, or some guns shipped from here to there, Carlos was your man, as long as you paid his price.
According to the film, Carlos started out as a dedicated Marxist, like Che, but got corrupted by money. The departure point for Carlos seems to have come in a 1975 raid on an OPEC meeting in Vienna engineered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). When a team led by Carlos (played by Édgar Ramírez of “Vantage Point,” who is a lot more handsome than the real Carlos) captured the OPEC oil ministers. He had orders to kill the oil minister of Saudi Arabia in order to facilitate a plan by Iraq to increase the worldwide price of oil. As hostage negotiations dragged on, Carlos found himself in a place where he would be killed if he executed the oil minister, or he could accept a payment of $20 million and let the man live. He chose the money, and life for himself and his team. Because he disobeyed orders, he is banned from the PFLP, and starts his own terrorist network.
Carlos, working with the government of Syria, establishes his own terrorism network in Europe, with a base of operations in Hungary. He finds that being a terrorist for hire pays well. There is plenty of oil money floating around the Middle East and some of it finds its way into his pockets. Carlos also benefits from the Cold War, as well as conflicts in the Middle East. He gets money not only from Libya, Syria and other Middle East countries, but from Russia as well. Carlos is adept at playing international politics. He starts dressing better and drives a fancier car. He gets married, has a child, but never really settles down. He has numerous sexual encounters with prostitutes and extra-marital affairs. The film has a lot of nudity and sexual scenes in it.
Carlos did very well for himself while the Cold War lasts between the U.S. and the USSR, but when that ends, the world changes abruptly, and Carlos finds himself persona non grata in countries where he used to welcome. His safe havens are rapidly disappearing. He is reduced to running guns from a remote location in Africa. Sensing the end, his wife, child and oldest friends depart. Carlos still has a high profile and there is a big price on his head. It is no longer safe to be around him. The vultures are circling.
The politics of Carlos' time are fascinating to see in this film, which depicts German and Japanese revolutionaries as well as those from South America and the Middle East. Carlos travels widely in Africa, Europe, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and seems to be able to speak whatever language is needed, English, French, German, Russian (he attended Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow as a youth and also studied in other countries, including England). Middle Eastern politics figures prominently in the film, with Carlos seeking alliances with Iraq, Iran Syria, and Libya among others, while battling against those allied with the U.S. Carlos is a man of action, and doesn't do well when he is idle, rapidly putting on weight and getting out of shape. His drinking and whoring don't sit well in the Islamic countries where he hides.
Carlos is pretty good at fooling himself. He likes to think of himself as a man like Che Guevara, but he is not like that. His personal morals are corrupt and he becomes a lot more interested in money than in revolution. While Che Guevara is a bit single-minded and boring, Carlos is anything but boring. He is fascinating, and scary. The disclaimer on this film indicates it isn't strictly factual. Some characters were combined and some terrorist attacks attributed to Carlos haven't been proven. This film rates a B+.
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