The Assignment (1997) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs up.

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.  


  • Celine Bonnier shows her breasts (in the full screen version only) as a former Carlos girlfriend co-operating with the CIA.
  • Lucie Laurier shows everything in the opening credits as Carlos' lover in Paris.
  • Claudia Ferri shows her breasts as the naval officer's wife (again, this is only visible in the full screen version)
  • Liliana Komorowska shows a full-frontal as a current Carlos lover fooled by the substitute. 
  • There is also one other (thus far unidentified) topless woman in bed with the real Carlos in an unspecified location. (The "Berlin Lover" was a blonde, and she didn't show anything in Berlin. This is a different woman, possibly Laurier again)

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.

  • Of course, if he wanted to fool any of the Carlos girlfriends, he'd have to train him how to fuck like Carlos, so his bosses would have to hire an ex-girlfriend to help, and the impersonator would have to do it even if he was some kind of devout Christian. remember, he didn't choose a life of espionage, but was forced into service because he happens to look exactly like a terrorist. The CIA bureau chief tells him, "Don't think of it as cheating on your wife. Think of it as fuckin' for your flag".
  • If the CIA wanted to keep the impersonator under deep, deep cover, there is always the possibility that our own men and our allies will believe that he really is Carlos, and will kill try to kill him. If successful in his impersonation, his greatest enemy would be our guys, because we are the ones that hate Carlos. 
  • There is the equally real possibility that the impersonator would have to kill some of our guys. If he's in deep cover, our guiys don;t generally know about it. If US or European or Israeli agents think the impersonator is Carlos, he'll probably have to kill them in self defense.
  • How does he explain to his family that he's gone for six months at a time, and when he returns he seems like a different man, more like the monster he's been trained to duplicate? 
  • After he's "made" by a terrorist, how can he assure that the entire terrorist community doesn't come after him and his family?

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.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, and a full screen version.

  • no meaningful features

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.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Maltin 2.5/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 67% positive overall, 36 articles on file

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8 
  • With their dollars ... the domestic gross was only $540,000, and the film never made it to more than 34 screens. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics - or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B- (both reviewers).

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