Do you want to know how good this movie is? It’s so good that after watching it just one time, more than twenty years ago, I never forgot about it. The Assignment is a gripping and action-packed spy thriller supposedly based on true events that’s going to stay with you. It follows the efforts to capture or kill a vicious terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. Do not read anything about him if you want to avoid spoilers. The opening scene is a work of art, instantly showing you that you’re in for a ride. And, in case you’re wondering, yes, that’s piss you’re looking at. The movie opens with human piss filling the picturesque Parisian cobblestone streets.
What happens next is an exciting spies vs terrorist story spanning several countries and continents. First of all, I had no idea just how brutal, unhinged, and skilled this guy Carlos was. I mean, he puts modern terrorists to shame with the gruesome nature of his acts. The story begins in Paris, France where Carlos just made love to a beautiful woman. He’s calmly smoking a cigarette while looking out of the window. The fact that most of the world is looking for him doesn’t seem to bother him much. Among those looking for him is a CIA operative Jack Shaw. He’s looking for him but failing constantly.
So, he will have to get creative if he wants to capture or kill the most wanted man on the planet Earth. I dare not tell you more about the plot of the movie because that’s one of its biggest selling points. The Assignment is a movie featuring a clear and straightforward structure. It consists of several different elements. And the storytelling is excellent, making the movie quite easy to follow. We have the action that’s exciting and brutal at times. The suspense that’s the mission or the assignment, if you will, is generating constantly. However, the most important element is the psychological side of things. And it’s consequences.
The amount of suffering that Carlos is exacting must be matched by the amount of effort and sacrifice our team is giving. This brings us to the performances of the cast. In the lead role, we have Aidan Quinn giving the performance of a lifetime. And then the two veterans come in to raise the stakes even more. Donald Sutherland and Ben Kingsley were just as good as Aidan. Just to get back to the psychological side of things, the thing that fascinated me the most when I first watched this movie was the way Carlos seduces his victims. Of course, since I was just a horny teen back then this is quite understandable.
Now, as an adult, I much better understand what they were going for. And the explanation they give rings true. Women do love danger and they do love bad boys. The atmosphere is rather serious and tense. It’s reflecting the gravity of the situation our characters find themselves in. Remember, these are real people, real terrorist attacks, and real efforts to put a stop to all the suffering. However, upon further research, I learned more about the whole operation to capture Carlos and it differs from the account we see in this movie. On the other hand, this is a CIA black-ops team conducting a black-op across multiple continents during the Cold War.
So, I don’t know what to think. If you want to know more about the real operation, the man who led it, Billy Waugh, wrote about it in his non-fiction novel Hunting the Jackal. While we’re at it, I think we should also mention other movies featuring Carlos the Jackal. First of all, the 1997 movie The Jackal starring Bruce Willis has nothing to do with the real guy. It’s actually based on a fictional novel. The Bourne Identity, 1988 edition, starring Richard Chamberlain, features a story where the real Jackal is actually the main villain. Of course, that movie, including the novel upon which it is based, is a work of fiction.
Director: Christian Duguay
Writers: Dan Gordon, Sabi H. Shabtai
Cast: Aidan Quinn, Donald Sutherland, Ben Kingsley, Claudia Ferri, Von Flores, Céline Bonnier
Fun Facts: Despite the big names and a solid budget, The Assignment didn’t get a lot of attention at the time of its release. Moreover, It was shown in just a small number of theaters in the US and Canada.