The Assignment (1997)

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Film / The Assignment (1997)

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While on holiday in Jerusalem in 1986, a Cuban-American naval officer called Annibal Ramirez is detained and roughed up by Israeli intelligence officer Amos (played by Ben Kingsley ). Turns out Annibal is the spitting image of 'Carlos the Jackal' Sanchez, the infamous Venezuelan terrorist who has evaded every attempt to kill or capture him. The mistake is (eventually) sorted out but gives Amos an idea. Together with Jack Shaw aka Henry Fields ( Donald Sutherland ), a CIA operative with his own axe to grind with Carlos, they plan to use Annibal to frame Carlos as a CIA informant, so he will be murdered by his own side.

Not to be confused with the 2016 action movie by Walter Hill .

This movie has the following tropes:

  • A former prison is used for Annibal's one-man Spy School . As a child Annibal had to visit his father in a Cuban prison, so this is a deliberate Mind Screw from his trainers.
  • Annibal meets Carla in a derelict building in the Dead Sea, where the only furniture is a bed — all that's needed for the training he receives there.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys : In her very first words, Carla spells out what Carlos' appeal to women is. Carlos: The thing about Carlos is... he doesn't lose himself with a woman. A lover is not different to him. He might have a use for them , so he has to seduce them properly, make sure they're so crazy about him that they'll do anything for him. It's not... not pleasure, it's a sick kind of conquest. He'll do anything... he is the perfect lover. He'll do it all, not to please you, but to excite you, to make it dangerous for you. (starts to stroke herself between her thighs) It's very sexy too, to a woman that danger, like he could kill you in a second but instead he makes you come. And it's like he's killed you and there isn't anything left of you and... he makes you be reborn again the way he wants you to be, so there isn't a thought in your brain that he hasn't put there. Not a feeling in your body that he hasn't put there.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too! : When Annibal talks of leaving the operation, Shaw says he has no problem using Annibal and his family as The Bait to lure out Carlos. Having already attracted the attention of a terrorist he bumped into by coincidence, Annibal can't afford to ignore the threat.
  • Asshole Victim : Annibal sees a father slapping his son for underperforming at baseball. When Annibal tells him to chill out, he gets in Annibal's face and receives a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown . Shaw has to bail him out of jail to continue the mission. Shaw: He was a Baseball Dad — he deserved it!
  • Bait-and-Switch : After seeing Carlos in action in Paris 1974 and Vienna 1975, we cut to 1986 with Carlos apparently planning a terror attack in Jerusalem. This turns out to be our protagonist, Annibal Ramirez, playing tourist while his ship is docked in Haifa.
  • Annibal and Shaw wear beards and wigs when meeting in an East Berlin café. The KGB use Facial Recognition Software to remove the beards and match their faces with photos of Carlos and known CIA counterterrorism agent Henry Fields. Of course this was the plan all along , and the fake beards only increase the chance that the computer will give a false positive result for Annibal.
  • Carlos wears a fake mustache and wig for the Paris bombing.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For : After the Libyan disaster Annibal wants to go home and see his family. Then Amos is killed and Annibal is sent home just when he's motivated to go ahead to make Amos's death mean something.
  • Becoming the Mask : Annibal is trained to think and act like Carlos, so much so that it starts to affect his normal behaviour.
  • Big Fancy House : The East Berlin safehouse used by Carlos and his fellow terrorists. The large grounds make it easy for Annibal to pretend to be leaving or entering as 'Carlos', when he's actually hiding in the surrounding woods.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality : Carlos is a thrill-seeking sociopathic terrorist, but Amos has Annibal snatched off the street and held for days without charge, and Shaw is a cynical manipulator so obsessed with catching Carlos he's prepared to destroy Annibal's life and let hostages die in Vienna just for revenge.
  • Blofeld Ploy : Carlos wonders out loud who revealed his safehouse in Libya, then cheerfully assures an underling that it couldn't be him, because: "We go way back." (shoots him through back of chair)
  • At the start of the movie, Carlos puts out a cigarette on a spider. At the end of the movie Annibal goes to do the same...but stops.
  • When told that Carlos has 70 hostages in Vienna, Shaw snaps, "Fuck the hostages!" When a wounded Annibal tells Shaw to leave him and go after Carlos, he snaps, "Fuck Carlos!" and carries Annibal to safety.
  • Boom, Headshot! : The first DST agent shot by Annibal; the other is a Cruel and Unusual Death , and another blows up with his car , making it obvious that Annibal has definitely killed them .
  • Brief Accent Imitation : Annibal eventually confesses everything to his wife, including his infidelity, then walks out on her to finish the mission, saying in his Carlos voice: "I'm late for work."
  • As the Libyan police examine the charred remains of the DST car and the taxi abandoned by Annibal, a van passes by and a KGB agent leans out to take a photo .
  • The KGB snap several shots of 'Carlos' meeting a bearded man in an East Berlin pub , and subject them to Facial Recognition Software .
  • Camping a Crapper : A terrorist takes Annibal into a Heathrow airport restroom to be interrogated by having his head shoved in a toilet bowl . Fortunately Amos sees him being led off and follows, leading to a Mutual Kill .
  • Character Tics : Carlos likes to lower his sunglasses to look at people, a habit that Annibal copies.
  • Carlos sends a Japanese terrorist to kill Agnieska, ordering him to exfiltrate via London. While at Heathrow airport, he runs into Annibal who, posing as Carlos, asks the terrorist what he's doing there. As Carlos should already know this, the terrorist does an Impostor-Exposing Test that Annibal fails.
  • When Annibal is blaming himself for not having bluffed the Trust Password , Shaw tells him there's no way he could have guessed it, and relates an incident where he killed a man who didn't know the correct countersign: "But not as sticky as two summers ago." When Shaw finds himself confronted by two Carlos's, he uses this phrase to establish which one is Annibal .
  • Chekhov's Gunman : Agnieska is introduced bringing Carlos the hand grenade he uses to blow up the café.
  • Chekhov's Skill : As part of his spy training, Annibal must enter a mock-up apartment and work out from clues if the woman living there has been cheating on her husband. Later Annibal uses the same technique to establish that Agnieska met someone in the Libyan safehouse before he got there.
  • City of Spies : The climax takes place in East Berlin.
  • Code Name : On starting Spy School Annibal is given the codename 'Miguel', so he asks if 'Jack Shaw' is also a codename. Shaw claims it's his real name, but he is referred to as 'Henry Fields' by his colleagues and the KGB.
  • Confronting Your Imposter : Annibal is still on the grounds of Carlos' safehouse when the KGB launch their assault, so he lays low. But seeing that Carlos is about to escape, he pursues and ends up fighting Carlos hand-to-hand. Carlos: (staring) Who Are You? Annibal: I'm you, motherfucker. (headbutts Carlos)
  • Contrived Coincidence : Annibal just happens to be identical with one of the most notorious terrorists in the world, arrested after being mistaken for him then recruited by the CIA. On top of that, he's also Latin American and even has the same last name, Ramirez. Since he's a US citizen and Navy officer, this makes his recruitment far easier.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death : Annibal shoots a DST agent who falls screaming off a roof onto several power lines and goes up in a blaze of sparks.
  • Darkest Hour : Annibal is feeling guilty because he killed four agents from his own side. Then Amos gets killed after a terrorist spots Annibal at Heathrow so the operation is suspended by the CIA Director pending review, making it look like it's been All for Nothing .
  • Dark and Troubled Past : Annibal's father was imprisoned in Cuba.
  • A Darker Me : The secondary purpose of his training is to bring this out of Annibal, replacing the rules-bound naval officer with someone more like Carlos.
  • Dark Side : Shaw even quotes from The Empire Strikes Back . "How do you stand this shit Annibal? I mean they're all so fuckin' constipated. [snip] You don't belong to them. You belong to me. Remember what Darth Vader said to Luke, "Come over to the Dark Side"? Come over, Annibal. You have no idea of the power we have."
  • Disappeared Dad : Carlos' father abandoned his family for a playboy lifestyle, and Amos advises Annibal to use his feelings about his own father (see Dark and Troubled Past ) to empathise with Carlos and become him.
  • Dissonant Serenity : When told there might be another two months training (though this might be another psychological ploy), Annibal blows his stack and insists he can take any test they can think up. So that night Amos and Shaw spike his food with LSD . Amos worries they might have gone too far, but they find Annibal the next morning with his feet up on the table , dressed and groomed and ready to go to the next stage.
  • Dodge by Braking : Annibal is in a stolen taxi that's falling apart under the abuse, being pursued by DST gunmen. He drives down a stairway halfway then pulls on the handbrake and ducks — the car behind hits the back of his own, flips over and bursts into flame .
  • Don't Call Me "Sir" : At the start of his training, Shaw tells Annibal to stop calling him sir because it gives away the fact that he's military.
  • Double Entendre Annibal: I have everything I want to eat, right in front of me. (goes down on Agnieska)
  • Eiffel Tower Effect : The movie opens with two kids urinating on the cobblestones, then a crane shot pulls up to show a view of 1970's Paris including the Eiffel Tower. Apart from this however the trope is avoided, using Scene Shift Caption instead.
  • Empathic Environment : Annibal goes home to his family on a bright sunny day. That night it's raining and he gets into a shouting match with his wife.
  • External Combustion : We hear a car start before it explodes in a ball of fire.
  • Faking the Dead : The Ramirez family get into their car which explodes into a ball of fire and an Empathy Doll Shot . Carlos gets a newspaper clipping announcing their deaths. After a funeral that Shaw attends, we see Annibal watching his family playing on the beach.
  • Fire-Forged Friends : Annibal with both Amos and Shaw.
  • Foil : Carlos is described as a superman compared to rules-bound, Happily Married family man Annibal. Amos: Carlos is the opposite, that's what makes him so seductive, you know? He can kill whoever he chooses, ravish whoever he chooses, take whatever he chooses, do whatever he chooses.
  • Foregone Conclusion : Carlos will obviously survive as he was caught in 1994 and is currently serving multiple life sentences in a French prison.
  • Fresh Clue : In the Sherlock Scan exercise, the milk in the fridge is only slightly off, indicating that it's been replaced recently and hasn't been sitting there a week.
  • Annibal kills four French agents escaping the DST trap in Libya.
  • In the climax, Shaw mistakes Annibal for Carlos and gleefully puts several shots into him.
  • Annibal deliberately knocks over various objects while fleeing through a Jeruselum marketplace to slow his pursuers down.
  • The DST do a drive-by shooting of the contents of a Libyan market stall.
  • Gallows Humor : As Amos is dying, Annibal jokes that he can't die yet as he never got around to suing him.
  • Gambit Pileup : Annibal gets caught in a trap set by the French DST to catch the real Carlos. Shaw: How could we know? It was their operation and they didn't tell us about it. I mean, we sure as shit didn't tell them about you.
  • Gender-Blender Name : Annibal has this problem as his name sounds like "Annabelle". When the Baseball Dad makes a snide comment about it, Annibal has him Talk to the Fist .
  • Going by the Matchbook : During the Sherlock Scan exercise, a matchbook in the rubbish bin tips off Annibal that his fictional wife met someone in a bar.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking : Carlos smokes, so Annibal has to as well. His wife is not happy. Maura: You started smoking again? Annibal: Yeah, I'll be doing heroin soon.
  • Grenade Hot Potato : In the Paris bombing, Carlos can be heard counting down after pulling the pin on his grenade before throwing it into the café. After taking hostages in Vienna, he trolls one of them by fiddling with a hand grenade as if he doesn't know how to use it, pulling the pin, then tossing the grenade to the terrorist guarding the door, who throws it outside at the police who've just shown up.
  • Hallucinations : For his final test, Amos and Shaw spike Annibal's food with LSD. The subsequent trip includes Talking to Themself (as naval officer, resentful spy trainee, and Annibal-Carlos), Dark and Troubled Past (visiting his father in a Cuban prison as a child) and parental fears (Carlos playing baseball with Annibal's son...using a grenade).
  • The Handler : Shaw for Annibal.
  • Annibal is introduced to their Mossad liaison, who turns out to be Amos. Annibal refuses to shake his hand because he's still pissed about what happened in Israel.
  • Played for drama during the Vienna airport scene (see Nothing Up My Sleeve ).
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack : When Annibal is being questioned by a Libyan customs officer on his first mission.
  • Hero Stole My Bike : While escaping from the DST, Annibal carjacks a taxi, throwing the driver out onto the street where he barely avoids getting hit by another vehicle.
  • High-Dive Escape : Carlos dives from a balcony into the Spree River to escape the KGB. Annibal dives right after him.
  • Hyper-Awareness : Carlos has this ability, picking up even the smallest out of place details in a location, which Annibal is taught to double him.
  • Identical Stranger : Annibal and Carlos aren't related at all; they're from completely different countries.
  • Impostor-Exposing Test : While buying duty free cigarettes at Heathrow Airport, Annibal is approached by a Japanese terrorist that Carlos sent to kill Agnieska. Terrorist: (quietly) What are you doing here? Annibal: (in Carlos voice) Buying cigarettes. What are you doing here? Terrorist: (politely) Excuse me, sir, I only wanted to know where I can get a newspaper? Annibal: Libya, quite a tragedy. (leaning close) I told you never to address me in public! Over by the phone booth and wait; I'll come to you. (goes to leave) Terrorist: Excuse me, sir. (jams carry bag concealing a gun into Annibal's ribs) I asked... if you knew... where I can get a newspaper. ( Oh, Crap! look on Annibal's face) You make the slightest move, and I shoot. And I don't miss.
  • Indy Ploy : Subverted; Annibal is able to fool an ex-girlfriend of Carlos because he's had months to prepare. When he tries to wing it at Heathrow Airport, it doesn't work.
  • Insane Troll Logic : Annibal points out the idiocy of training in snowy Canada to catch someone who's in the Middle East.
  • Institutional Allegiance Concealment : Annibal is travelling in mufti while on leave in Israel, and ditches his dogtags and ID while being chased by men he assumes are Arab terrorists. Amos doesn't believe that he's a US Navy officer until one of his men finds Annibal's bag, and even then the Israelis hold him for three days until they're absolutely sure he's not Carlos.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies : Even though he wants to sort out the mess he's made of his home life, Annibal must leave to continue the mission because his family will never be safe as long as Carlos is alive.
  • It's Personal : In 1974 while Shaw was sitting outside a Paris café, he was recognised by Carlos who borrowed a light off him , then proceeded to the balcony above and threw a hand grenade into the crowd. Shaw survived the attack, but was humiliated by having missed one of Europe's most wanted men when he was literally right under his nose .
  • Just a Stupid Accent : When he's snatched off the street by the Israelis, Annibal thinks he's been kidnapped by terrorists so exaggerates his Cuban accent so they won't realise he's an American officer.
  • Karma Houdini : Averted in the long run; Carlos escapes both the CIA and KGB, but is now persona non grata in both East and West. Without a sanctuary, he's eventually captured in 1994.
  • Lady Drunk : Carla is introduced swigging directly from the bottle, which she then rolls across the floor to Annibal so he can take a drink too. Given that she was betrayed by the man she idolized, is now working for her former enemies, and is about to have sex with a man who is the spitting image of her ex-lover so he can kill Carlos , one imagines she has a lot to drink about .
  • Latex Perfection : Annibal skillfully uses this for the risky first meeting with an ex-lover of Carlos. She enters the safehouse in Libya only to be grabbed by a bald-headed man in a mustache who threatens to kill her (and other things ) if she doesn't reveal where Carlos is. Agnieska denies knowing anyone of that name, whereupon the man peels off a latex headpiece and removes his fake moustache to reveal a smiling 'Carlos'. As such mind games are entirely in character for him, she's entirely willing to believe it's done to test her loyalty , instead of a trick to make her less able to see one impersonation behind the other .
  • Latin Lover : Carlos is always shown either in bed with a woman, or with an attractive female terrorist among his entourage.
  • Leave No Man Behind : When Amos is shot, he tells Annibal to leave him to die alone because it will be All for Nothing if Annibal's cover is blown. After being shot Annibal urges Shaw to leave him and chase after Carlos, but Shaw finally puts aside his vendetta and carries him to safety.
  • Lie Back and Think of England : Being Happily Married , Annibal isn't as glad as he should be that the next stage of his training involves having sex with a beautiful French ex-lover of Carlos. Shaw: Don't think of it as cheating on your wife, think of it as... fucking for your flag. Amos: [mock gravitas] When in doubt, close your eyes. Think of England.
  • Manipulative Bastard : Shaw turns up at a US Navy ball and proceeds to push Annibal's buttons, looking for a weakness. Does he resent the Gilded Cage of a career Navy officer? Is he attracted by the freedom and power of a spy? His country needed him and he Refused the Call ; wouldn't that look bad on his personnel file? None of it works, until Shaw has Annibal brought to the bedside of a boy the same age as his son injured by a bomb that Carlos planted. Annibal later realises the whole thing was just a performance for his benefit.
  • Married to the Job : Shaw: I don't have any family, I don't have any friends, and I think the only people who mattered to me are the ones that I killed. And you.
  • Mistaken Nationality : An admiral goes on about how good it is that Mexican-American officers are coming up through the ranks, until Maura politely informs him that they are, in fact, Cuban-American.
  • Modesty Bedsheet : Gender-inverted; the women are shown fully naked while Carlos or Annibal is the one whose groin is always hidden by the sheet. The Fanservice Extra with Carlos does however cover herself with the sheet in a hurry when one of his goons walks into the bedroom .
  • Mutual Kill : Amos and the Japanese terrorist shoot each other at the same time.
  • Annibal after shooting a French agent in the face. It quickly goes From Bad to Worse as the DST keep attacking and he has to kill several more to survive.
  • Annibal sees a man slapping his own son during baseball practice. When the man gets in his face Annibal beats him up, then realizes his own son has witnessed this.
  • Shaw misses Carlos when he's right in front of him in Paris.
  • The protagonists trigger a trap to catch the real Carlos, causing the death of several agents of an allied country.
  • Annibal tries to pose as Carlos when he encounters a terrorist at Heathrow airport. He's quickly exposed and Amos gets killed saving him.
  • Annibal is drowning Carlos in the river when Shaw turns up and shoots Annibal, mistaking him for Carlos despite knowing that Annibal is in the area.
  • Carlos throws a grenade into a Paris café. The explosion breaks a gas line which blows up the entire building.
  • Annibal shoots a French agent who then falls off the roof onto powerlines which go up in a blaze of sparks, making it really clear to Annibal that he killed the guy .
  • Carlos sends the Japanese terrorist to kill his ex-girlfriend for turning informer. Agnieska is shot in the head as she's leaving a building with her DST guards, then a nearby car bomb blows everyone up.
  • No One Gets Left Behind : Annibal has to abandon Amos to die in an airport restroom, rather than compromise the operation. When Annibal is shot in the climax he urges Shaw to leave him and go after Carlos, but Shaw carries him to safety instead, saying Carlos is as good as dead anyway.
  • Nothing Up My Sleeve : Shaw plans to kill Carlos during the hostage exchange at Vienna airport, using a mechanical device that launches a derringer into his hand. But as Shaw reaches out to Carlos, the CIA station chief shouts for him to stop—Carlos instinctively levels his submachine gun at Shaw, so he doesn't dare move. The station chief, unaware of Shaw's intentions, says, "You don't want to have your picture taken shaking his hand."
  • Not Right in the Bed : Since Annibal will have to interact and likely sleep with Agnieska, the CIA has to actually work to avert this trope. So Carla, an ex-girlfriend of Carlos who is now under Israeli protection, instructs Annibal in Carlos' domineering sexual technique. However Annibal's wife Maura becomes suspicious when he starts using what he's learnt in their lovemaking.
  • Not What It Looks Like : Annibal gets snatched off the street in Jerusalem — turns out the Arab men who grabbed him are working for Mossad, and they've mistaken him for Carlos planning his next terrorist act.
  • Amos when he's handed Annibal's dogtags and US Navy ID card.
  • Annibal when told he's going to Libya. This is just a few years after the first Gulf of Sidra incident, so for a US naval officer in The '80s it would be like walking into Mordor .
  • "WHO DID YOU MEET WITH?" "The French Secret Service. The DST."
  • Annibal in Heathrow when he's asked for a countersign that he doesn't know.
  • Annibal pretends to leave the Big Fancy House that Carlos has, meets with Shaw where he'll be photographed by the KGB, then returns to the house and hides in the woods outside. Unfortunately, the KGB turn up in force before he has a chance to slip away.
  • Shaw empties his gun into the man he thinks is Carlos�and then a second Carlos appears and he realises he might have made a terrible mistake.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business : Annibal shouts down his wife when she accuses him of infidelity, and beats up another father at baseball practise.
  • The Only One : Justified as a Doppelg�nger to a famous terrorist, who also happens to be an officer of your own country, is not exactly common. Shaw: The governments of most of the countries of the Free World have been trying to get Carlos for the past ten years. And they have come up with absolutely nothing. Because there's really only one way to get him. Which is to say there is exactly one person in the whole world, who can get him.
  • Overt Operative : Shaw is recognised by Carlos in Paris; unfortunately Carlos is disguised so Shaw doesn't recognise him until it's too late. Shaw: We are both very well known in this business.
  • Papa Bear : When Shaw threatens to let Carlos know where his family is, Annibal threatens to kill him , and slaps aside the pistol that Shaw draws regardless of the danger.
  • Pull the Thread : While in the safehouse in Libya, Annibal notices an unfiltered cigarette in the rubbish bin — Agnieska only smokes filtered cigarettes. On being confronted Agnieska says that she went to the café to buy food and bummed a cigarette off someone there. To her relief 'Carlos' appears to buy this...but he then realises that the nearest café is two blocks away and she would have finished and thrown away the cigarette before then.
  • Refused the Call : When Shaw first approaches Annibal, he's more interested in suing the Israeli government than going on some looney James Bond mission. Shaw proceeds to push every button he can find on Annibal until he finds the one that works.
  • Revenge Before Reason : Shaw is obsessed with catching Carlos after his humiliation in Paris. However after accidentally shooting Annibal he comes to his senses and helps him to safety instead of pursuing Carlos when urged to.
  • Rogue Agent : Shaw is reminded that the CIA is not in the assassination business any more, but is willing to kill Carlos in Vienna regardless.
  • Roofhopping : Annibal escapes from the Libyan safehouse by leaping to a balcony on the opposite side of the street and fleeing across the rooftops. When he gets down to the ground however, he finds the DST haven't given up the chase.
  • Shaw tries to goad the straight-laced Annibal into this trope.
  • There's a Record Needle Scratch on a gramophone player just as the KGB are about to kick down Carlos' door. Everyone freezes until they hear Carlos continue talking inside.
  • Sex God : Played With . Carla comments that Carlos was very skilled in bed, but he's an egomaniac who only pleasures women for his own ego. He was also physically and emotionally manipulative even during sex, and she basically describes his " appeal " as a Fetishized Abuser . She clearly resents having enjoyed sex with him as much as she did.
  • Sexual Karma : Since Annibal will have to sleep with Carlos's girlfriend while pretending to be him , he has to learn to have sex like Carlos did in order not to make the girlfriend suspicious . So he has Carla, an ex-girlfriend of Carlos, instruct him on it, and she makes it clear Carlos is a skilled lover , but also a domineering and aggressive one who's into Erotic Asphyxiation . By contrast, Annibal is Happily Married and has a healthy and vanilla relationship with his wife Maura (and loathes to have to cheat on her for the mission). When he has sex with her using the aggressive sexual technique Carla taught him, she doesn't enjoy it and tells him to stop as he's hurting her, with the implication only "bad" girls enjoys "bad" sex .
  • Sexy Discretion Shot : Annibal's and Carla's "sex training" cuts away just as he starts going down on her.
  • Sherlock Scan : Carlos is able to find anything that doesn't belong simply by looking around a room, and Annibal learns how too (e.g. the leftover ash from another man's cigarette in the garbage).
  • Shooting Gallery : Annibal takes part in an exercise that tests both his memory and shooting skills. He walks through a graveyard and when his trainer calls out a name, he turns towards the gravestone engraved with that name, behind which is hiding another man armed with a paintball gun shooting back at him.
  • Shoulders-Up Nudity : When Annibal strips down at Carla's request, the camera stays just above his waistline.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss : An Invoked Trope . Carla tells Annibal to take off his clothes so she can teach him how Carlos makes love. Carla: [looking down] You're smaller than him . Annibal: [awkward laugh] Really... Carla: [slap] That's what he would have done if I had said something like that. Without a moment's hesitation. What's wrong with you? No eres ni hombre! [She goes to slap him again — Annibal hits first knocking Carla across the room.] Annibal: Look I--I'm sorry, I-- Carla: Shut up! Come to me, come on...kiss where you hit. [Annibal tries to kiss her lips — she turns her face away] Kiss where the blood is. Spread it on my lips so I taste it...
  • Slasher Smile : Carlos grins at Shaw from the café balcony before throwing a grenade into the crowd below.
  • Something Only They Would Say : Annibal proves his identity to Shaw when he says "awfully warm for this time of year", to which Annibal replies "but not as sticky as two summers ago". These are the two halves of a code phrase that was part of an assignment from long ago that his handler mentioned in conversation.
  • Spies In a Van : DST and KGB surveillance teams are shown operating from vans, though the KGB men outside the East Berlin safehouse are crammed into a Lada.
  • Spot the Imposter : While passing through Heathrow Airport, Annibal is approached by a Japanese terrorist who knows Carlos. Annibal makes the mistake of posing as Carlos instead of himself, but realizes too late he's been given a codephrase to which he doesn't know the countersign. Afterwards Shaw mentions a similar incident where he killed a contact who didn't have the countersign, and later uses this story to tell the difference between Annibal and Carlos in the climax.
  • Spy's Suspicious Spouse : Justified; her husband really is cheating on her. She assumes his altered behavior is due to stress from working on a submarine (Annibal's cover story for being out of contact for so long).
  • Suddenly Shouting Carlos: You want to go? Let's go. (tying shoes) I want to be interrogated. (throws bra in mook's face) I demand— (picks up SMG hidden under clothes and opens fire) TO BE INTERROGATEEEED!
  • Superpowered Evil Side : Before he goes into Libya, Amos gives Annibal some advice. "When you look in the mirror, I don't want you to find Annibal Ramirez: find Carlos. Cause if you find Carlos that's what everyone else will find too. And if you find Carlos and anything goes wrong, he's the only one who can get you out of it, because he's the best at what he does."
  • Throw Down the Bomblet : While being chased on foot by DST agents driving a car, Annibal drops a live grenade onto the pavement and lets them drive over it.
  • Training from Hell : The training is designed to push Annibal to his limit both physically and psychologically — not only to teach Annibal how to survive when he doesn't have the massive support structure of the US Navy behind him, but to force him out of his comfort zone and into the mindset of a wanted terrorist.
  • Training Montage : Though the improvement takes a while.
  • Trust Password : "But not as sticky as two summers ago."
  • Tuxedo and Martini : When turning down the assignment, Annibal suggests to Shaw that James Bond would be a more appropriate recruit. In the next scene, Annibal and his wife go to a Navy ball and run into Shaw wearing a tux.
  • Uriah Gambit : The Plan is to frame Carlos as a paid informant for the CIA, so he will be killed by the KGB.
  • Wax On, Wax Off : Played with; Annibal is given exercises to improve his memory, driving, situational analysis and shooting skills, but the plan itself is only explained to him once he's reached a certain level of proficiency. Meanwhile he's fed porridge (and nothing else) until he's sick of it and losing weight. He has Amos blowing cigar smoke in his face , and Shaw trying to run him over with remote-controlled snowmobiles. Turns out the purpose is to Teach Him Anger ; not only his own but that of his target — Carlos grew up eating the same porridge and tells everyone he meets how much he hated it and the smell of his father's cigars. He was also underfed as a child and clumsy at sports, feelings that Annibal can now empathise with .
  • As the commandos are climbing the walls, their boss turns up at the gate as if for a routine visit. As he leaves his car and goes over to the gatehouse, a commando shoots the guard with a silenced pistol and the KGB boss continues inside without breaking stride .
  • A KGB commando raps on the window. As the terrorists inside grab their guns and turn to the window to fire, other commandos hiding by the door shoot them In the Back .
  • On being confronted by the KGB who order him to get dressed and come with them for interrogation, Carlos does so while contemptuously throwing ladies underwear in their faces...then grabbing a submachine gun hidden under the clothes.
  • Annibal spends most of the Chase Scene in a blood-splattered white shirt after he Boom Headshots a man at point-blank range.
  • Carlos later shoots a minion he believes is an informer, with the exit wound appearing on a white undershirt.
  • Woman Scorned : Carla is helping the Israelis kill Carlos because her former lover set her up to be killed by carrying a bomb onto an airplane .
  • You Can Never Leave : Having put so much work into Annibal, Shaw is not going to let him walk away from the mission. He's even willing to use Annibal's family as The Bait to lure Carlos if that's what it takes.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame : Shaw: The French made it perfect for us. The KGB now think you're Carlos. They took the bait! Annibal: You fucking maniac . Jack, I-killed-four-men! (as Jack looks away) HEY, I DON'T LIKE KILLING OUR FUCKING ALLIES, ALL RIGHT? Amos: Policemen wind up killing other policemen. It happens. I'd rather have you here feeling guilty about them than to know that there's some meeting in Paris with them all sitting around feeling guilty about you. Shaw: You did what you had to do, and it worked. Carlos himself couldn't have done any better.
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the assignment movie 1997 true story

Movie Reviews

Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, the assignment.

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"The Assignment'' is a canny, tricky thriller that could serve as an illustration of what this week's similar release, "The Peacemaker,'' is not. Both films involve an international hunt for a dangerous terrorist, but "The Peacemaker'' is a cartoon and "The Assignment'' is intelligent and gripping--and it has a third act! Instead of an action orgy, it has more than enough story to see it through to the end and keep us absorbed the whole way. Yes, it ends with a deadly struggle, but as the setting for another stage of the movie's web of deceit.

The film is centered on a CIA plot to discredit and kill Carlos, the feared terrorist who operated for years, despite the best efforts of the free world's security agencies to capture him. Donald Sutherland plays Fields, the CIA agent for whom Carlos has become an obsession, and when he finds a U.S. Navy officer named Ramirez ( Aidan Quinn ) who's a dead-ringer for the terrorist, he devises a risky scheme: He'll train Ramirez to impersonate Carlos, then use the double to convince the KGB that their attack dog is disloyal. As a result, Carlos will either be dead or, almost as good, discredited in the eyes of his sponsors.

Fields works with an Israeli named Amos ( Ben Kingsley ) in training Ramirez, after first using psychological tactics to persuade the reluctant Navy man to leave his wife and family and become a counter-terrorist. (The scene where Fields shows Ramirez a dying child in a hospital is a direct echo of " The Third Man ".) Then the false Carlos, is sent into the field to work the deception, which I will not describe.

"The Assignment'' is fascinating because its characters can be believed, because there is at least a tiny nugget of truth in the story, and because from the deceptive opening credits, this is a film that creates the right world for these characters to inhabit. Sutherland's CIA man is especially well drawn: "I don't have any family,'' he says, "and I don't have any friends. The only people I've ever cared about were the ones I've killed.'' Quinn plays a dual role, as Ramirez and Carlos, and has some tricky scenes, especially one in which a former lover of Carlos helps train him sexually so that he will be a convincing bedmate for another of the terrorist's lovers.

The screenplay, by Dan Gordon and Sabi H. Shabtai , has action scenes that grow from the story and are not simply set pieces for their own sake. It's impressive the way so many different story threads come together all at once near the end.

The director, Christian Duguay , is new to me. What he has is a tactile love of film, of images. He and the cinematographer, David Franco, don't use locations so much as occupy them; we visit Jerusalem, Paris, Vienna, Washington, Tripoli and Moscow (or sets and effects that look like them) and yet the movie's not a travelogue but a story hurtling ahead.

I have seen so many lazy thrillers. They share the same characteristics: Most of the scenes involve the overpriced star, the villain is underwritten, and the plot is merely a set-up for the special effects, the chases and the final action climax. "The Assignment'' gives us ensemble work by fine actors, it has a villain of great complexity (developed through the process of imitating him), and at the end there is a tantalizing situation for us to unravel as we leave the theater.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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The Assignment movie poster

The Assignment (1997)

Rated R For Strong Violence, Sexuality and Language

115 minutes

Claudia Ferri as Maura Ramirez

Aidan Quinn as Annibal Ramirez/Carlos

Ben Kingsley as Amos

Celine Bonnier as Carla

Directed by

  • Christian Duguay
  • Sabi H. Shabtai

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The forgotten ’90s thriller The Assignment took paranoia to another level

What Are You Watching? is a weekly space for The A.V Club ’s staff and readers to share their thoughts, observations, and opinions on film and TV.  

One of my favorite things I’ve seen recently is The Assignment , a peculiar 1997 thriller directed by Christian Duguay as a follow-up to his economically accomplished (and quite faithful) Philip K. Dick adaptation Screamers . Not a perfect film, but the Byzantine plot makes a rich canvas for the B-movie paranoia that was Duguay’s forte for a time (his debut was Scanners II: The New Order , a direct-to-video sequel to the David Cronenberg film), with enough twisted Hitchcockian themes to compensate for some of its technical and budgetary shortcomings. Set in the mid-1980s, it stars Aidan Quinn in a bizarre dual role as the real-life terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (a.k.a. Carlos The Jackal, subject of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos ) and Lt. Commander Annibal Ramirez, an American naval officer whose resemblance to the international fugitive is discovered when a Mossad team mistakenly nabs him while he’s out of uniform on shore leave.

Duguay’s direction is thrifty, but still eccentric, starting with a literal piss-take on the Spielberg-style one-shot sequence: an opening shot of Paris circa 1974 that cranes from a couple of schoolboys peeing in the street up through some special effects and straight into a sex scene. His Carlos is overtly sexy and monstrous, introduced perpetrating a grenade attack on a café ( for which the real Carlos recently received a third life sentence ) in a hippie disguise baldly modeled on Gary Oldman’s daytime look in Bram Stoker’s Dracula . So whenever the craft falls short (e.g., a cheaptastic version of the OPEC siege that looks like a ’90s true-crime show reenactment), the existential queasiness and serpentine plotting persevere.

Returning to the States after the Mossad incident, Lt. Commander Ramirez is slowly bullied by a veteran CIA spook, Shaw (Donald Sutherland), into taking part in a convoluted plan to trick the KGB into doing the agency’s dirty work by assassinating the real Carlos. Ramirez’ mission is to fool the Soviet contacts in Carlos’ network into thinking that the terrorist is secretly a CIA asset. Leaving behind his family, Ramirez is transported to a dilapidated compound where Shaw and a Mossad handler named Amos (Ben Kingsley) spend months basically turning him into Carlos The Jackal, conditioning him into the reflexes and always-alert mindset of a paranoid fugitive, quizzing him on minutiae on a full-sized apartment set (the number of cups and plates in a kitchen cabinet, the contents of a fridge), forcing him to eat their target’s least favorite foods until he also learns to hate them, dosing him with LSD.

The idea behind this cross between Method acting and brainwashing is that Ramirez—a stubborn family man, the all-American son of an anti-Castro Cuban—won’t be able to get by on resemblance alone; he needs Carlos’ survival instincts and alpha-predatorial swagger. But the results are predictably fucked-up, conveyed by Duguay through visual and narrative reflections—an uncommon combination of very blunt filmmaking and strangely elaborate subtext.

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The Assignment

1997, Action/Mystery & thriller, 1h 55m

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The assignment   photos.

Annibal Ramirez (Aidan Quinn) is an American naval officer who looks remarkably like notorious international assassin Carlos Sanchez (also Quinn). Veteran CIA agent Jack Shaw (Donald Sutherland) has a vendetta against Sanchez and recruits Ramirez to impersonate the fugitive. Along with Mossad operative Amos (Ben Kingsley), Shaw begins training Ramirez to become Sanchez, but the mission proves to be incredibly perilous, and the American soon wonders if it's worth the risk.

Genre: Action, Mystery & thriller

Original Language: English

Director: Christian Duguay

Producer: Tom Berry , Franco Battista

Writer: Dan Gordon , Sabi H. Shabtai

Release Date (Streaming): Jan 1, 2014

Box Office (Gross USA): $540.1K

Runtime: 1h 55m

Production Co: Columbia, TriStar Pictures

Cast & Crew

Aidan Quinn

Lt. Cmdr. Annibal Ramirez, Carlos

Donald Sutherland

Jack Shaw, Henry Fields

Ben Kingsley

Claudia Ferri

Maura Ramirez

Céline Bonnier

Vlasta Vrana

KGB Head Officer

Liliana Komorowska

Carl Mickens

Mitchell David Rothpan

Joey Ramirez

Gregory Hlady

Gabriel Marian Oseciuc

Frederic Desager

Kliment Denchev

KGB Technician

Yonathan Gordon

Ndiouga Sarr

Nigerian Oil Minister

Manuel Aranguiz

Venezuelan Oil Minister

Leni Parker

OPEC Receptionist

Christian Duguay


Sabi H. Shabtai

Franco Battista

David Saunders

Executive Producer

Joseph Newton Cohen


David Franco

Yves Langlois

Film Editing

Normand Corbeil

Original Music

Michael Joy

Production Design

Art Director

Denis Sperdouklis

Costume Design

Karen Margiotta

Mary Margiotta

Lucie Robitaille

Critic Reviews for The Assignment

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The Assignment

Film details, brief synopsis, cast & crew, christian duguay, aidan quinn, donald sutherland, ben kingsley, claudia ferri, celine bonnier, technical specs.

Cuban-American navel officer Annibal Ramirez is a dead ringer for Carlos "The Jackal" Sanchez. His features are so close to those of Sanchez that he is brutally interrogated as a terrorist while on vacation in Israel. American counter-intellegence agent Jack Shaw and his Israeli counterpart Amos realize they can use Ramirez as bait for "The Jackal." Wanting to serve his country, Ramirez is unsure he can survive the physical and psychological trials he must endure to become like Sanchez. By the end of the training, however, Ramirez knows Sanchez better than anyone alive and enters the world as "The Jackal."

the assignment movie 1997 true story

Vlasta Vrana

Liliana komorowska, mitchell david rothpan, gregory hlady, gabriel marian oseciuc, frederic desager, kliment denchev, yonathan gordon, ndiouga sarr, manuel aranguiz, leni parker, jacques lavallée, david francis, daniel pilon, richard jutras, hisham zayed, ted whittall, francis del vecchio, lisa wegner, lucie laurier, neil kroetsch, matthew dupuis, paul stewart, claude genest, michael caloz, david franco, heinz becker, louis bouchard, mark knoeffel, andres lange, martin morf, marcello adatto, benoit alarie, francois allard, pierre allard, alec anderson, michael annett, georges archambault, itzik ben aroya, henri aubertin, jean-paul auclair, nancy auclair, cheryl bainum, mihaly balasko, sandor balo, gyula balogh, itzhak bareli, krisztina barkoczky, franco battista, marc h beaulieu, louise bedard, benoit begin, marc bélanger, novek belanger, richard belanger, caroline beliveau, jocelyne bellemare, christian bergeron, sylvain bergevin, josee bernard, jacques f bernier, michel bernier, mickey binyamini, brian black, andras bogdan, jean boivin, michel bolduc, michel b bordeleau, philippe bosse, diane boucher, virginie boudreau, claude boulet, mary bradley, anderson chet bradshaw, cecile braemer, karoly braunner, michel brohez, michel brouillette, joseph lang browns, joseanne brunelle, frances calder, andrew d campbell, jean-francois campeau, helene canse, alain caporicci, johanne caporicci, annie carignan, claudine carpentier, tim j carroll, denis caspar, yves castonguay, jason cavalier, michel cerro, guylaine chagnon, stephane charron, jean chasse, jozsef cirko, steve clark, steven clark, alain clouatre, guy cloutier, gary coates, joseph n cohen, didier communaux, stephane connolly, sam coppola, normand corbeil, ryal cosgrove, francis covan, mike cozons, donna croce, gabor csakovics, zsolt csutak, denise d'amours, francois daignault, louis dandonneau, gary daprato, james darling, luc deguise, jean-yves denis, louise deschenes, marc desourdy, melina dicristo, robert ditchburn, kristen dolenko, jacques dorion, marion doucet, pascal dufaux, gina duhamel, paul dupont, yanick dusseault, john dykstra, bram eisenthal, shimon elimelech, zsolt feher, attila feherhegyi, bruno ferland, deak ferrand, natalie fleurant, raoul fortin, martin fournier, charlene francique, sassi franco, monika frankl, mario fraser, rene frechette, michel frenette, zoltan fulop, yiftach gabai, daniel gagnon, francine gagnon, sylvie gagnon, paul-emile gallant, gilbert garcia, jean-francois garcia, patrick garcia, benoit gauthier, francois gauthier, michel gauvin, sebastien gervais, nimi getter, michel ghorayeb, michel ghoyareb, stephen gilbert, natalie ginat, suzanne gingras, manon girard, moshe gissis, johnny goar, shai goldenberg, francois gosselin, melany goudreau, anne grandbois, jennifer-lys grenier, naama halperin, johnny harkala, avidan hatuka, terry hawkins, claude hazanavicius, simon hebert, r j henning, roger hewett, mark hoffman, julie houle, monika hufnagel, daniel huysman, france hyman, silvi imbeault, yehuda sar israel, pierric jouvante, michael joy, daniel juneau, boaz katzenelson, nick kerridge, shabtai kimhi, yaacov kimmelfeld, bobe kiraly, attila kiss, pini klavir, michael konydes, daria korolus, agota kovacs, balazs kovacs, gabor kovacs, tamas krausz, yohannan kredo, maurice krouche, brigitte labelle, helene lafrance, eric lafrance st-pierre, stephen laidlaw, miscellaneous notes.

Released in United States Fall September 26, 1997

Limited Release in United States September 26, 1997

Released in United States on Video March 17, 1998

Based upon a true story.

Completed shooting June 27, 1996.

Began shooting February 11, 1996.

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