The Assignment (1997) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Tuna's comments in white.
|The Assignment (1997) is a very good
espionage thriller staring Aidan Quinn in a dual role. He is a Cuban
American Naval officer with a wife and two kids, who happens to look
just liked notorious terrorist Carlos, aka, the Jackal. While on
liberty in Israel, he is grabbed by the Mossad, who mistake him for
Carlos. That brings him to the attention of CIA operative Donald
Sutherland, who has been after Carlos for a very long time. He, and
Mossad officer Ben Kingsley recruit and train Quinn for a complex plot
to get Carlos killed. I have very high praise for this film, so will
stop short of a spoiler.
I liked nearly everything about it. The script was tight, with an unpredictable plot line that kept me riveted to the screen. All of the performances were strong, and the lighting, set design/art direction, and photography did an amazing job in creating the atmosphere.
Scoopy's comments in yellow:
I agree. I liked the movie so much that I looked to see what else the director had done, and to my surprise he's never done anything I really enjoyed. His last effort featured Wesley Snipes in the Art of War.
There are just so many things I like about this flick, but I think my favorite element is that they genuinely tried to figure out what might happen if an espionage-impaired naval officer, who just happened to be a Carlos the Jackal look-alike, had to make a sudden metamorphosis to a capable international spy impersonating the notorious Carlos. The moviemakers imagined the problems the impersonator would have to face, and they imagined reasonable solutions.
Espionage stories always duck these issues, but in the real world, these are real and painful issues that deep cover agents have to face, and this film gives no easy outs. It faces them all squarely, often unpleasantly.
The filmmakers also deal with the need to make the impersonator deeply aware of Carlos' proclivities. Deeply aware. Aware in a way far more personal and real and visceral than what can be found in a textbook. This requires some brainwashing techniques, and the movie cleverly shows how that might be done.
|One thing the writers
avoided was the language problem. Carlos spoke languages that the
officer didn't speak. What the hell was he going to do if he had to
hold down a conversation in French or some other language spoken
fluently by Carlos. Even if
the fake Carlos could learn passable French in six months, he couldn't
learn to speak exactly like Carlos. How did it happen that the
"marked" girlfriend spoke to the impersonator in English? Was that just luck?
The CIA couldn't know what language Carlos and his girlfriend spoke together in their intimate
moments, because they admittedly couldn't even take a photo of the guy
from closer than 500 yards!
But, let's assume that there are plausible answers to all of these questions, and just enjoy the show. It's a good ride. This is probably one of the very few films about international espionage that really catches both the intensity of the operation and the painful drudgery of the training.
The film also has an unexpected undercurrent of unobtrusive but richly realized visual poetry. An example - there is a symmetry between the opening and closing scenes, and those two scenes use the same visual metaphor (involving a spider's web and a cigarette) to show the similarities and differences between the two look-alikes.
Return to the Movie House home page