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ASSIGNMENT, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Carlos "The Jackal" Sanchez is the best known terrorist in the world, and for 20 years, the most elusive. Annibal Ramirez (Aidan Quinn), on the other hand, is a fine American naval officer with a family. And he is the spitting image of The Jackal (not to be confused with the film of that name, but dealing with a fictional assassin). The CIA’s Jack Shaw (Donald Sutherland) and his Israeli counterpart, Amos (Ben Kingsley) realise they can use Ramirez to impersonate Carlos and draw the real terrorist out of hiding into a trap. They recruit him despite his reluctance, and for Ramirez, it is a daunting descent into the depths of the human soul, as he becomes Carlos in every movement, every word, every cruel gesture, and even beds the women who can lead the Western world into Carlos’ lair. The process changes him, much to his own and his wife’s despair, but the mission is the most important of his life – and of great value to the freedom and safety of the world.

"You don’t need to have read the book about the terrorist Carlos (To the Ends of the Earth, by David Yallop) to be fascinated by this film, but it certainly adds to the richness of the experience. Written - at an opportune time, with Carlos now in jail - by two men who have first hand experience and knowledge about espionage and the Middle East, the best part of the script is the device - a doppelganger - that gives us an outsider’s point of view of this always fascinating and frightening world. So, on the one hand, we are witness to a huge, globally important fact-based story whose denoument is still a subject of current affairs; and on the other, we are given a first class thriller that sets itself apart by its intelligence and depth (I don’t agree with Brendan Kelly, below, who calls it flat). There is plenty of action and plenty of substance, both political and psychological, as well as very high stakes; what’s more, it’s all for real. Then, as a character study of a sturdy naval officer and family man turning himself into the double of a terrorist without morals, it is a tribute to all involved, but especially Aidan Quinn and his Canadian director, Christian Duguay. The accomplished script is matched by accomplished visuals, hardly surprising since Duguay is himself a cinematographer. (This is his second film, after Screamers.) For lovers of cinema, the long but seamless opening shot alone is worth the price of admission, beginning with a Paris street puddle being filled by two little boys peeing, and ending up inside a bedroom above the street, for a dramatic scene. Not only does the shot itself take your breath away, it embraces the very contrariness of life: the playfulness adjacent to the drama of it. This is excellent cinema."
Andrew L. Urban

"Directed with flair, The Assignment is a classy and intriguing thriller with an economical, intelligent script that tantalises as it engages. Richly interwoven in various different cultures, there is a feeling of pace and action with fluid cinematography propelled by an exciting score. Aiden Quinn is terrific in the double role of Ramirez and Carlos. His piercing blue eyes delve not only beneath the wigs and accents, but allows Ramirez to discover his own dark side as he digs into his adversary’s persona. In his best recent role, Donald Sutherland makes a fascinating CIA agent - intense, bordering on slightly deranged yet with a human touch. Ben Kingsley is magnetic as Amos, equally driven: Sutherland and Kingsley together offer great complexity. While the ‘lessons’ intended to equate Ramirez’ love-making prowess with Carlos’ are, needless to say, hugely improbable, it is an entertaining part of the ride, nonetheless. Besides, he can always ‘close his eyes and think of England!’ I rather like the line when Shaw tries to convince Ramirez to assist them, and Ramirez replies: ‘I think the man you want is in England. His name is Bond, James Bond.’ The humour is ironic, the emotions diverse, and Christian Duguay may well be the next Luc Besson, his Assignment leaving indelible images."
Louise Keller

"The Assignment is a very contradictory thriller. On the one hand, it has many mainstream qualities, an abundance of explosions and sequences of routine action, as well as a hero, or an anti-hero, that doesn't quite work. Yet, this is a curiously compelling film, one that delves into the psychology of terrorism in a unique fashion. What is particularly fascinating about this film is the relationship between obsessive CIA agent Shaw, meticulously brought to life by Donald Sutherland, and Israeli Mossad agent Amos, nicely played by Ben Kingsley. Here we have two deeply etched characters on the outer, whose varied motivations and their own developments are the major core of an otherwise simplistic thriller. Aidan Quinn gives more of a problematic performance, one that seems artificial and at times bland, and for this reason, the overall impact of The Assignment has been lessened by a central character who remains emotionally shallow. This is a slick, competently made thriller, with some solid set pieces (such as the powerful opening), but with a far better and more interesting central performance, the film could have been so much more. Thank goodness for Sutherland and Kingsley who give the film much needed depth."
Paul Fischer

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1
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DONALD SUTHERLAND
attended the premiere of his latest film, The Assignment, at the 1997 Toronto Film Festival, where PAUL FISCHER reports:

The hair and beard may have greyed, but the hypnotic and intense actor who rose to stardom as the original Hawkeye Pearce in Altman's M*A*S*H, almost thirty years ago, still retains an old-fashioned film star persona.

Sutherland has nothing but praise for Canadian director Christian Duguay. The actor mentions that his own character in The Assignment, that of Jack Shaw, the obsessed CIA agent, was the one that deviated most from the script. And if that means Sutherland helped create the character himself, it would partly explain how he hijacks the movie from his co-stars, psychologically dominating the narrative. "I wanted to do something very different with Shaw. In the final film, he's a much more isolated and cold fish than in the original script." He says the film could easily have been another conventional action genre piece "but that would not have interested me. This is a very psychological, character-based drama, more European in style than American."

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ASSIGNMENT, THE (MA)
(Canada)

 

CAST: Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, Claudia Ferri, Celine Bonnier, Vlasta Vrana, Liliana Komorowska

DIRECTOR: Christian Duguay

PRODUCER: Tom Berry, Franco Battista

SCRIPT: Dan Gordon, Sabi H. Shabtai

CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Fraco

EDITOR: Yves Langlois

MUSIC: Normand Corbeil

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Joy

RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 14, 1998

VIDEO RELEASE: August 9, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar

RRP: $19.95






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