It seems that terrorist movies were all the rage back in 1997, off the top of my head there was "The Peacemaker" with George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, there was "The Jackal" with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere and there was "The Assignment". What's that I hear, you've never heard of "The Assignment"? I wouldn't be surprised if that is the case as whilst "The PeaceMaker" and "The Jackal" were action movies with big star names "The Assignment" was different. It still had star names such as Donald Sutherland and Aidan Quinn but this isn't about a Hollywood Hunk looking good running around with guns this is more about the situation of a man training to be Carlos the Jackal in order to stop him and what it takes and how it changes him.
CIA agent Henry Fields (Donald Sutherland - A Time to Kill) has become obsessed with getting terrorist Carlos the Jackal ever (Aidan Quinn) since 1974 when Carlos personally humiliated him in Paris. 12 years later and he is presented with a unique opportunity when agents in Jerusalem arrest Lt. Cmdr. Annibal Ramirez (Aidan Quinn - Legends of the Fall) of the US Navy as he is a dead ringer for Carlos. After refusing to take no for an answer and taking him to see a victim of one of Carlos's terrorist attacks persuades him to help. Weeks of gruelling training go by to make Annibal act and think in the same way as Carlos in preparation for the master plan.
"The Assignment" starts with the sounds of a woman climaxing before we see her glistening naked body on a bed in a dirty looking room. That scene is a bit of a red herring because it lowers your expectations as any movie which starts with a sex scene must be desperate. Now there are more sex scenes further on in the movie including one where Ramirez finds himself having to bed one of Carlos's former lovers as part of his training but these are just minor moments in a movie more about the situation rather than the action.
What I mean by that is we see how first Henry gets to work on Ramirez in order to get him to agree to act as Carlos's double and then we see the training he has to go through. Now there is action in this but the action isn't the focus but what it is doing to Ramirez and why he needs to go through it and how when he starts to pretend to be Carlos he has to think on his feet. We also see how he has to observe the smallest of detail such as the wrong cigarette butt in the bin. It makes "The Assignment" a far more intelligent thriller but still one with enough action so that it never feels too wordy.
As for what happens well there are plenty of twists going on so that what initially seems straight forwards ends up much more interesting. As such "The Assignment" is the sort of movie you can't take your eyes off of for a minute in case you miss something, not that you want to especially with good performances throughout including those from Donald Sutherland and Aidan Quinn.
What this all boils down to is that "The Assignment" is the sort of thriller for those who want more than just action but still need the action to keep them entertained. And it has to be said that despite being over 15 years old it still stands up well to modern action thrillers with scenes which feel like they may have inspired the "Bourne" movies.