The poster for The Double - a movie that is yet another eolith in the burgeoning revival of the cinematic espionage thriller - displays Richard Gere’s character prominently alongside the film’s title graphic intimating, not so subtly, that he may be a double agent. Aha! I’ve brilliantly unlocked the film’s secret reveal and can now sit back and enjoy as the proceedings play into my predetermined conclusion. So, imagine my surprise when, a mere 30 minutes into the film, Gere’s character is positively revealed as Cassius, the legendary Soviet assassin now working for the CIA - and currently being called upon to track down and eliminate, well, himself.
Then I began to recall the film’s trailer, which also blatantly revealed the duplicitous nature of Gere’s character. What’s going on here? It became readily evident that writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas – who also wrote screenplays for 3:10 to Yuma, Wanted, and 2 Fast 2 Furious – were looking to destabilize the audience by dashing our expectations early on. Put us on unstable ground, so we’ll have fun trying to guess who is who and what might happen to whom. It’s a risky strategy for sure, and one that might have worked had Brandt and Haas been able to create a psychologically charged atmosphere in which to dip our thrill-thirsty brains, rather than a ridiculously convoluted one that introduces so many more twists and turns and piles on so many b-movie plot contrivances, we’re not sure who or what to believe anymore.
Richard Gere is Paul Shepherdson, a retired CIA agent called back into action by his boss (Martin Sheen) to investigate the recent murder of a US senator whose body reveals the slit-throat trademark of the feared Cassius, a Soviet assassin long thought dead.
Shepherdson’s partner on the case is Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a book-smart greenhorn agent who wrote his master’s thesis on Shepherdson’s legendary pursuit of the Soviet killer, and who is certain the senator’s murder wasn’t the work of a copycat, but indeed that of Cassius.
Soon after Shepherdson’s true identity is revealed – as that of Cassius – the film becomes a monotonous exercise in watching Agent Geary pour over old case files while Shepherdson warns the young upstart’s wife (Odette Annable) that great danger will come from getting too close to a deadly world-class killer. What was meant to be a suspenseful “the enemy walks among us” thriller, instead becomes a tedious exercise of patience in wondering how long it will take Geary to uncover what is right beneath his nose.
The idea of having two sleuths pursue a bad guy, while we know that one of them is the very bad guy in question, was the inspiration behind many of the prototypal spy movies and novels of the past. Secret agents and secret double agents are the foundation of what made brilliant classics out of films like No Way Out and Three Days of the Condor. But dragging cob-webbed Soviet spies out of the dusty closet and running them through an overly-complex plot bloated with typical genre trappings takes more than rug-pulling twists to entertain modern audiences.
Though Brandt and Hass clearly know their way around an action-thriller, the excitement of a well-crafted spy movie takes more than complex deception and lies – unless you were to have Angelina Jolie stewing naked in a vat of bubbling wax – but we simply don’t get more here. The Double is just a convoluted mess of garroted throats (Cassius wields a thin wire he retracts from his wristwatch), competing motives, and pre-anticipated reversals that eventually erode our trust as well as our hope for any restitution.
Instead of taking in The Double, rent a copy of The Day of the Jackal or The Parallax View instead. You’ll thank yourself.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images and language.
Director: Michael Brandt
Writer: Michael Brandt; Derek Haas
Cast: Richard Gere; Topher Grace; Odette Annable; Martin Sheen; Stephen Moyer
Genre: Mystery | Crime | Drama
Tagline: Keep your enemies close.
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's Cassius. He's back!"
Distributor: Image Entertainment
Release Date: October 28, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 31, 2012
Synopsis: A retired CIA operative is paired with a young FBI agent to unravel the mystery of a senator's murder, with all signs pointing to a Soviet assassin.
No blu-ray details yet available