Whether it’s Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the man (allegedly) responsible for last weekend’s cargo plane bomb and the ‘underwear bomb’, or Carlos the Jackal who shot and bombed his way through the 1970s and 80s, newspaper photographs of the international terrorists are anonymous, bland and mysterious. The three-part TV mini-series, Carlos, originally shown on French TV, but now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, gives us a detailed look at Carlos’s career and life outside the grainy pictures the public knew him by.
We’ve already reviewed the two and a half hour cinematic release, but we’ve got Carlos fever, so we’ve decided to review the TV series too. The three 1hr 40min episodes clock in at around five hours, but for most of it you’ll be gripped, amazed and horrified.
Carlos, in case you don’t know, was a terrorist for the cause of international Marxism and freedom for Palestine in the 1970s and early 1980s. He claimed responsibility for numerous deaths and was wanted by the authorities in at least five European countries. But by the mid-80s, as the Soviet Bloc and the revolutionary communism became redundant, so Carlos’s power began to fade.
The first episode focusses on the two or three years of Carlos’ early days up to his biggest terrorist operation – the takeover of the OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975. The series version packs in yet more events and introduces new players who aren’t covered in the movie. Another terrorist group (who are now forgotten) who also end up entangled in Carlos’ activities are the Red Army, a group of young Marxist Japanese.
The film does a great job of conjuring the eras it passes through – Carlos is even shown wearing a very seventies cravat at one stage. His fashion sense might not be radical, but then Carlos is no ordinary terrorist. As his boss says, “you are intelligent and brave, but lack discipline and caution”, as the film progresses, we see just how apt this is.
The second episode opens with Carlos and his gang setting off the OPEC meeting. These guys are the coolest terrorists you’ve ever seen – leather, shades and bags of attitude. But if you’re worried that violence is being glamorised, you’d be wrong – if these are cool terrorists, it’s because that’s they way they see themselves. There’s no doubt they are narrow-minded and nasty, or petulant and petrified when things don’t go right.
This longer version of Carlos not only gives us greater insights into the anti-heroes’ personality, but also reveals more about the way terrorism operates. It rarely operates in a vacuum, terror needs backers and support. Carlos meets with KGB agents, Middle Eastern secret service men and other groups with similar aims.
The final episode probably has the most material that is missing from the cinematic release. It’s fair to say that there is a change in pace from the frenetic action of the earlier two episodes. At first Carlos is trying to run terrorists operations from a flat with a spare room stuffed with crates of machine guns in Hungary.
Although there is less excitement in this final segment, it is probably here that we get a better insight into Carlos’ character. His ‘complicated’ relationship with women, the paranoia and his big head, and the fact that for all his bluster, he’s not a terribly good terrorist or very important in the scheme of things.
The longer, TV version of Carlos builds an well-drawn portrait of a fascinating character, an in-depth insight into a topic that is rarely out of the news (terrorism) and a gripping adventure story. Whether in 20 or 30 years time they will make a movie out of the life of al-Asiri remains to be seen, but it will no doubt reveal a repugnant, but intriguing man.