ASSIGNMENT, THE

R
Reviews

While this blandly titled film might become known simply as 'that other Jackal movie,' The Assignment wisely plays down the one potentially damaging gimmick that drives the plot. Director Christian Duguay (Screamers) executes Aidan Quinn's dual acting assignment with unusual confidence, compared to the awkward identical-looking characters featured in dogs like Steal Big, Steal Little.

A stylized, bravura opening sequence literally explodes the first and defining meeting between young CIA agent Jack Shaw (Donald Sutherland) and Carlos 'The Jackal' Sanchez (Quinn) in a cafe in Paris. Before Carlos drops a weighty grenade (filmed in captivating slow-motion) on the eatery, an unsuspecting Shaw politely and momentously offers his soon-to-be-lifelong nemesis a light. Throughout the years, Carlos eludes capture and delivers an unprecedented reign of terror.

In one of the film's countless location changes, owing much to Mission: Impossible, an American tourist is captured in present-day Jerusalem by Mossad agent Amos (Ben Kingsley). After days of torturing the person he believes is The Jackal, Amos learns the true identity of his captive is American naval officer Annibal Ramirez (Quinn again), a dead ringer for the elusive terrorist. Shaw resurfaces and strong-arms the reluctant Ramirez, a content suburban husband and father, into becoming the pivotal element in a tricky plot to fool the KGB into assassinating The Jackal. However, Ramirez must first endure an intense, and oftentimes cruel, training regimen in sub-freezing Montreal. Shaw and Amos force the nice-guy out of Ramirez through countless tests, including a downright bizarre (and seemingly irrelevant) LSD sequence. They teach him to think like The Jackal, to feel like The Jackal, and, using one of Carlos's ex-girlfriends, to even make love like The Jackal.

Ramirez's transformation introduces obvious moral dilemmas, which the film handles too conventionally. After a few assignments posing as The Jackal, Ramirez begins to feel an unusual but compelling empowerment, much like Nicolas Cage (as the good-guy John Travolta character) in Face/Off. Along with roughing up his sex life with his wife, Ramirez almost beats to death a fellow Little League father. Unfortunately, this aspect of his transformation and involvement is predictably overdone. Also below par is the dialogue, especially that delivered by Sutherland's character, an obsessive teetering on the familiar line between good and bad.

The film is most comfortable generating action and a surprising amount of suspense while jumping back and forth from Paris to suburban America, Israel, Montreal and Libya, places captured vibrantly by cinematographer David Franco. Quinn gives a commanding performance as both Ramirez and Carlos, who only appear in the same frame as silhouettes in a smartly played climax. Sutherland does the best he can with the trite dialogue he's given and Kingsley, though vastly underused, adds a solid presence.

--Glenn Slavin