A Forgotten Bruce Willis Action Movie Is Streaming For Free
One Bruce Willis' more forgotten action films has a fascinating backstory, and it is streaming for free right now.
The recent retirement of Bruce Willis from acting due to health reasons will always leave us with questions of what roles he might have played and what career resurgences he might have had. But while his late-period run of direct-to-streaming releases has become notorious for lack of quality and the generic nature of the movies, that was not the first time that Bruce Willis had gone to that well. Right in the middle of Bruce Willis’ mid-1990s hot streak of great films, he made one of his more forgettable action films. That movie is the 1997 spy thriller The Jackal and it is currently streaming for free on Amazon Prime Video’s Freevee service.
The Jackal stars Bruce Willis as the title character, a ruthless, implacable assassin, and master of disguises. In theory, that is; in actuality, it is always very clear to at least the audience that it is a grim Bruce Willis in a variety of wigs and mustaches. It is not really the fault of the filmmakers that one of the biggest and most recognizable stars in the world is the lead of the movie, but it does make him more difficult to buy as a ghost who seems to slip effortlessly through police and FBI defenses in order to reach his high profile target: the First Lady of the United States (Tess Harper).
The Jackal is perhaps the only movie that stars Bruce Willis as an unambiguous villain. While he might have sometimes played a morally flexible protagonist (as in Pulp Fiction, wherein Butch guiltlessly kills, as long as it is in self-defense) or a scary guy who turns out to be fundamentally decent (The Whole Nine Yards), Bruce Willis is absolutely the villain of the film. The actual heroes are Richard Gere as a former IRA sniper enlisted to hunt down the Jackal and Sidney Poitier (in his final role) as an FBI bigwig, but the movie is really about watching Bruce Willis methodically planning his assassination method.
The plot of The Jackal is more complicated than it really needs to be for a movie that is really about Bruce Willis killing anyone who stands in his way. It involves the death of an Azerbaijani mafia member in a joint FBI/Russian intelligence operation, a Basque separatist terrorist/former lover of Richard Gere, and Jack Black as a greasy-looking gunsmith who tries to doublecross the Jackal and pays the price. It is kind of a lot just to get to Bruce Willis with a big, cool gun.
The movie was directed by Michael Caton-Jones, whose very interesting filmography includes the acclaimed coming-of-age story This Boy’s Life starring Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, the historical action film Rob Roy with Liam Neeson, the Michael J. Fox fish out of water comedy Doc Hollywood, and the erotic thriller sequel Basic Instinct 2. This particular Bruce Willis movie is a loose reimagining of the classic spy thriller The Day of the Jackal (which itself was based on a book of the same title). It was originally intended to use the same title, but legal wranglings and several re-writes eventually turned it into one of those “inspired by” films.
Bizarrely, the original novel The Day of the Jackal inadvertently became the origin of the nickname of the real-life political terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as Carlos the Jackal. While the Bruce Willis character has no direct connection to Carlos, there is something very odd about the circular nature of pop culture affecting reality affecting pop culture.
The Jackal was released in the wake of Pulp Fiction, which had revitalized Bruce Willis’ career after the mega-flops Bonfire of the Vanities and Hudson Hawk. This period produced some of his best work, including the science fiction action caper The Fifth Element and the time travel drama 12 Monkeys. It would be shortly followed by colossal hits like Armageddon and The Sixth Sense, and wedged in the middle of all these Bruce Willis classics, The Jackal is understandably forgotten. The movie did tolerably well at the box office, grossing a little over $162 million at the box office. It did not do tolerably with critics at all, still holding a measly 25% on Rotten Tomatoes. While Bruce Willis would go on to make much (much, much) worse and forgettable films than The Jackal, this at least is one that you can watch for free right now.