The Double: Film Review

Screenwriter Michael Brandt makes an undistinguished move into directing with this programmatic thriller.

The movie, which also stars Topher Grace, Stana Katic, Stephen Moyer, Martin Sheen and Odette Yustman, marks the directing debut of "Wanted" co-writer Michael Brandt.

NEW YORK -- Richard Gere is on icy-cool autopilot in The Double, a barely warm dish of Cold War leftovers that shows its hand too early, then works itself into an increasingly implausible tangle of knotty plot developments without ever mustering much intensity.

The pedestrian espionage thriller marks a physically capable but uninspired directing debut for screenwriter Michael Brandt, who penned the script with regular writing partner Derek Haas. That team’s previous collaborations have included the muscular Western remake 3:10 to Yuma and visceral high-octane action fare 2 Fast 2 Furious and Wanted, both of which benefited from a sly sense of humor beneath all the revved-up, outlandish hyper-violence.

It’s disappointing then that Brandt would choose to step behind the camera with material that might have been fished from a bottom drawer, its tortuous plotting simultaneously half-baked and overcooked. A tired tale of covert elements within the CIA and FBI, the movie attempts to slap a gritty edge and a modern veneer of national-security paranoia onto a storyline with echoes of vintage Frederick Forsyth or John le Carre.

Gere plays Paul Shepherdson, a veteran CIA operative summoned back from retirement by his supervisor (Martin Sheen) when the murder of a U.S. Senator with business ties to Russia points to the return of a long-inactive Soviet assassin, codenamed Cassius. Shepherdson spent 20 years tracking Cassius, eliminating the killer’s vicious hit squad but never locating the man himself, who is believed to be dead.

Action-hungry young FBI rookie Ben Geary (Topher Grace) doesn’t buy that theory. He wrote his Harvard Master’s thesis on the hunt for Cassius and gets paired with the reluctant Shepherdson on the rebooted investigation.

Given that the identity of Cassius is revealed in the trailer for The Double, it should come as no surprise that the movie also spills that secret just a half-hour in. That leaves little to occupy the audience as Geary pores over old case files, while Shepherdson circles the ambitious upstart and his family with ominous warnings that no good can come of getting close to a ruthless killer.

More convoluted than psychologically complex, the film keeps a second big reveal up its sleeve for the final reel. But by that point there’s been such a pileup of movie-ish plot contrivances that it’s likely to provoke more eye-rolls than gasps.

Gere puts the effort into the role that it merits, which is to say very little. He has played variations on this steely-smooth vessel of immorality and deception countless times before, with far superior results. Mike Figgis’ supremely sleazy (not to mention subversively misogynistic, homophobic and all-round misanthropic) 1990 thriller, Internal Affairs, is a notable example. This time, he mostly looks bored, which doesn’t help the absence of chemistry between the male leads.

Grace lacks the gravitas to assume chief-sleuth duties or to persuasively ground the shock twist of the final act. And his happy-family home life with adoring wife (Odette Yustman) and cute kids is too perfunctorily sketched to make us care about their endangerment.

There’s some momentary pleasure in watching Stephen Moyer glower and snarl with relish as a reptilian Russian thug who makes the actor’s vampire king Bill Compton on True Blood seem like a puppy. But almost everything else about this routine thriller, from its slick visuals to its churning techno score, is unremarkable.

Opens Oct. 28 (Image Entertainment)
Production: Hyde Park Entertainment, in association with Imagenation Abu Dhabi
Producers: Ashok Amritraj, Patrick Aiello, Derek Haas, Andrew Deane
Director: Michael Brandt
Screenwriters: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas
Cast: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Stana Katic, Stephen Moyer, Martin Sheen, Odette Yustman
Director of photography: Jeffrey Kimball
Production designer: Giles Masters
Costume designer: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Music: John Debney
Editor: Steve Mirkovich
PG13 rating; 98 minutes