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Volume 91, Issue 23
Tuesday, October 7, 1997
frosh and go
Re-heating the Cold War
IT'S NOT A GUN... IT'S A BANANA... REALLY! Aidan Quinn, Ben Kingsley and Donald Sutherland do some top secret spy stuff in The Assignment.
When the Soviet Union went belly-up, the film industry lost one of its best themes the Cold War. Ever since the success of glastnost and peristroika, the general viewing audience has been inundated with evil Bosnians (The Peacemaker), evil Americans (Face/Off, The Rock) and, of course, evil Aliens (ID4, Men in Black).
Remember the good old days when James Bond had to out-manoeuvre the bad Soviets and when the threat of nuclear war was present in our lives, not just in films. In those days, us-against-them was real. It wasn't just a Hollywood ploy to get movie-goers to pay $8.50. For those who yearn for just a glimpse of Cold War filmmaking and love a good KGB vs. CIA mind game, there is The Assignment. Not only does it have all the elements of a great Cold War film, but the story is excellent, the acting is superb and the cinematography is out of this world.
The story revolves around Annibal Ramirez (Aiden Quinn,) a United States Naval officer who bears a striking resemblance to international terrorist Carlos the Jackal, the most dangerous and ruthless terrorist in the world also played by Aiden Quinn. Ramirez is reluctantly recruited by a CIA counterterrorist agent (Donald Sutherland) and an Israeli secret service agent (Ben Kingsley) to leave his family behind and essentially become Carlos the Jackal. Once this is done, his mission is to confuse the KGB, (whom the real Carlos has a deal with) and make them think he is transferring his loyalties so that the KGB will take him out. This way, the CIA will be getting rid of a horrible terrorist and making the KGB look foolish. Who could ask for anything more?
Quinn and Sutherland are outstanding in this film. Quinn's ability to play both Ramirez and Carlos and then combine the two into a confused, torn man, is brilliant. Sutherland plays his role as if it was meant for him. No one has the intelligent, yet somehow absolutely insane look that Sutherland possesses and he makes it shine in this role.
What really makes this film fantastic is the cinematography. The camera work has an urgency to it which adds to both the plot and characterization. Cinematographer David Franco no doubt took notes from Alfred Hitchcock in the art of letting the audience feel the characters' fear. The use of an extremely high, almost bird's-eye view, creates this feeling, as do the bumpy tracking shots. The audience has no choice but to become personally involved in the lives of these characters and experience their emotional roller coaster.
Many critics have argued the problem with this movie is it is too much like Face/Off and G.I. Jane two quite successful summer films. The Assignment is nothing like either of those films. If anything, it is the antithesis of those films. The Assignment identifies and rectifies everything that was wrong with those films. It is more realistic than Face/Off, not as concerned with political correctness as G.I. Jane and involves a story that hits closer to home than either of those films.
In taking the familiar Russia vs. USA theme, the makers of The Assignment succeed in bringing originality in the story and its conclusion. A few rubles buys you some good entertainment. You will not be disappointed.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997