US, 1997, 115 minutes, Colour.
Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley.
Directed by Christian Dugay.
The Assignment has the kind of plot that authors like Jack Higgins think up: how to catch a criminal by impersonating him and setting him up as double-crossing the agencies that employ him. This time it is Carlos, the Jackal. (It must be the year of the Jackal with Bruce Willis portraying a version of him in the glossy thriller earlier this year, The Jackal).
This somewhat dour thriller, photographed in subdued tones in contrast to the high gloss of other films) spends a great deal of time on the ruthless training of the substitute Jackal and tries to show something of the brutalising effects this job (taken on patriotically to save lives) has on the man himself.
Aidan Quinn, often in roles as the weaker offsider, gives some credibility to this seemingly far-fetched mission. But Donald Sutherland as his CIA control gives an excellently menacing performance while Ben Kingsley is his more personable Israeli counterpart. For conspiracy thriller fans.
1. Interesting espionage drama? The title: the focus on Annibel? His succeeding in his mission - in himself, the destruction of Carlos's terrorism, the bitter irony at the finale of the film which suggests that the real Carlos is impersonating the naval officer?
2. The locations and atmosphere: France and Paris, the United States and the training centres, Libya, Israel? Musical score?
3. The plausibility of the plot: the reality of the career of Carlos as a terrorist, his being popularised by The Day of the Jackal and other films and novels? His place in the newspapers and media? A symbol of terrorism in the late 20th century?
4. The opening, the introduction to Carlos, his relationships, his taunting of Jack Shaw, letting the hand grenade go off in the crowded restaurant? Giving the image of an unscrupulous and cruel terrorist? His ability for disguise and escape?
5. Annibel and his arrest in Jerusalem, the look-alike, the Israeli mistake, in prison, his anger with them, threatening to Sue, his being released? Return to the United States?
6. Jack Shaw and his visits to Annibel and his wife, at home, the dinner, the pressure, the threats? Annibel's refusal, his finally having to submit?
7. The cover for Annibel: work in the submarine, farewell to home, the details of the rigorous training, psychological, militaristic? The transition to Israel and the meeting with Amos? The reconciliation? The toughness of the regime in Israel, the use of LSD, hallucinations where he was Carlos? The physical demands? Amos and his coaching, Jack Shaw and his domination? The tests for Annibel, his passing them? Carlos's girlfriend and the sexual implications for Annibel?
8. The strategy for trapping Carlos: using Annibel, the girlfriends, setting up a false identity with money and the girlfriends, the Swiss bank, the intention that the Soviets be interested in the fictitious person, identifying it with Carlos, their photographing Annibel with Shaw and Carlos deemed to have sold out?
9. The execution of the plot: Annibel and his encounters with the girlfriend, his rough reactions, the attack by the French Secret Service and his having to act like James Bond to get away? The psychological impact and his wanting to return home? The motivation to continue the impersonation?
10. The Soviets falling for the strategy, Shaw and his enthusiasm, the continued set-up, tracking down Carlos, the Russians taking him in the bedroom with the girl, the shootout, Shaw and Annibel waiting and shooting?
11. Shaw's dilemma, the two men, his shooting the wrong person? The rescue, Annibel going home, the explosion and the family destroyed? Shaw sending the newspaper report, the hideaway, the irony of the use of the cigarette to kill the fly in the spider's web - Carlos himself or had Annibel assumed some of the personality of Carlos?
12. The character of Shaw: his isolation, no family relationships, creating the alternate Carlos? The encounter in Paris, his witnessing of the explosion, his pressure on Annibel, training him, determination, the shooting? Amos and his being hostile, joining in the training, the pathos of his being killed?
13. The 20th century and enjoyment of this kind of political conspiracy theory and drama?