Betsy Sharkey's critic's pick of the week: 'Carlos'
This weekend is your chance to do something unique, experience something that years later only an exclusive group will be able to lay claim to: Seeing "Carlos," in toto, in theater, the way it was meant to be seen. French director Olivier Assayas' socio-geo-political masterpiece on the infamous Venezuela-born terrorist who stalked Europe during the '70s and '80s, will screen in Los Angeles only five times in its 5½-hour form starting Friday at 7 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.
Now if 5½ hours sounds daunting, don't be dissuaded; in Assayas' hands, the film involves, seduces and moves at such a pulse-pounding pace that the time goes by in a flash. (And, yes, there's a brief intermission about 2/3 of the way through.) So seductive is "Carlos," with its star, Edgar Ramirez ("Che," "The Bourne Ultimatum") so charismatic, you'll be swept into the mind of a terrorist in a way that is, well, terrifying.
The collaboration between Ramirez and Assayas creates a portrait that neither romanticizes nor demonizes Carlos. Rather, they dismantle the myth to take some measure of the man. Ramirez crawls so deeply inside the character, making his performance unforgettable.
For those around him, Carlos was a heady cocktail of power, ambition, politics, sexuality and danger too intoxicating to resist. They may question, but ultimately they follow. That makes some of what happened not forgivable, but understandable, as we go inside the mayhem he created -- with the taking of the OPEC ministers in 1975, the most infamous. Assayas turns those scenes into a brilliant dissection, capturing the crosscurrents of fear and feigned camaraderie in the bizarre conversations between Carlos and his captives.
Meanwhile, for those of us sitting in the communal darkness of a theater, Assayas has created a cinematic experience so alive you almost choke on the cigarette smoke that thickens the rooms where plots are hatched and enemies gunned down; its sexual encounters are so visceral, the sweat and stink is palpable; its brutality so fueled by rage your own blood runs cold as someone else's pools.
What the filmmaker has done as well is remind us of the sheer immersive force of the historical epic, a genre that has all but disappeared from the big screen. You have your chance this weekend. Take the plunge.
-- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times film critic
Photo: Edgar Ramirez, right, in a scene from Olivier Assayas' "Carlos." Credit: Sundance Channel