Assessments of Olivier Assayas' 'Carlos' - his first near-masterpiece since, um, last year - will invariably begin with an acknowledgment of how long it is (319 minutes) and how short it feels (very). It's an understandable approach given that five-and-a-half hours is a daunting amount of time to spend with either a film or a person, and Assayas' biopic essentially asks its audience to do both. But it would be a real shame if people were scared off by the film's epic running time, as 'Carlos' is ironically the most accessible of the Parisian auteur's films - a kinetic, supple, and absorbing chronicle of one of the 20th century's most notorious (and openly narcissistic) terrorists.
Originally conceived for French television (where it aired earlier this year after premiering at Cannes) as a three-part miniseries, 'Carlos' follows the rise and lateral drift of Illich Ramirez Sanchez (a.k.a. Carlos), the infamous Venezuelan ex-patriot who contrived to play as pivotal a role in the Cold War as he possibly could, most memorably leading a hostage-taking assault on the 1975 OPEC conference in Vienna. The expansive portrait begins in the 1960s with Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) as a dissatisfied Marxist looking for some action to further his vague revolutionary ideals, and erratically canvases thirty years in its detached depiction of how this faux-revolutionary was really most committed to perpetuating the cult of his own personality.