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Carlos

Year: 2010
Production Co: Films en Stock
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas, Dan Franck, Daniel Leconte
Cast: Edgar Ramirez

The working title could well have been 'The Smokers'. You see characters light up so often in this expansive, six hour mini series it borders on extraordinary.

But there's much more to it. Carlos feels like the sort of thing that could only have come from a European production. There's barely a mention of the United States until the last third and if nothing else, it reminds you that there was a history of armed political anarchy, terrorism and anarchy in the world before September 11, 2001, one that was just as scary.

Edgar Ramirez portrays the most famous freedom fighter/thug for two decades of Carlos' life. Venezuelan Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was best known for raiding the 1975 OPEC conference in Vienna, flying hostages to Algiers and then Tripoli and going free.

We meet him as a young revolutionary, as distracted by drink and girls as any young man but politically passionate and dedicated to what's continually referred to as The Cause (the liberation of Palestine). Showing early promise as an apprentice in the militant arms of the Middle East's political movements, an interesting change comes over Carlos and the on again-off again cohorts he works Europe with.

It's not so overtly proclaimed by the script, but his continued drive for contacts, hideouts, weapons and mission planning makes him an avowed capitalist, curious considering the political schism of the enemy he's vowed to destroy. And when old allegiances fall away because of the shifting political sands of history – like when Syria tells him they'll no longer shelter him – Carlos is reduced to looking for any sponsor he can to offer safe haven and munitions, just like an app designer knocking on doors in Silicon Valley.

Early on, following the OPEC raid, he's also shown falling somewhat victim to the mystique of his own marketing, loving every minute when cheering crowds line the footpath holding up pictures of him as he drives slowly past in his signature shades and beret.

And if it's not the gradual shift from sleek revolutionary to slightly flabby mercenary-for-hire, it's the lifestyle itself. Like James Bond, Ramirez travels from one desert training camp and luxury hotel to another, crisscrossing Europe to meet, train and carry out his expansive business of terror, doors open to everyone from the Stasi to Muammar Gaddafi's personal driver. If he'd been packaging and peddling a computer instead of service of terror in the name of Arab liberation, it could have been the story of Steve Jobs, and after the OPEC operation introduces the world to a guy who looks like an angry young revolutionary with his trenchcoat and scowl, Carlos ends up looking like a doughy executive in his suit and tie later in life.

If never digs very deep into Ramirez' psyche apart from a few glimpses where he reveals what he seems to have known all along about his life (that it won't end peacefully, for example – which he was wrong about so far). But the film portrays him as having a single goal with everything else such as the women he married and loved mere distractions, and the distractions – including the constant pursuit of pussy and good living – momentary downtime from his mission.

As the beginning of each episode reminds you, it's not by any means a history lesson, but you come away feeling like you have a more complete picture of the history of terrorism means than you ever get from the cowboys and Indians nature of the American media.

The running time is a big commitment but it lets a story that covers over 20 years relax and take its time. Ramirez hardly ever breaks a sweat (or his expression), but it's well worth it.

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