|Director: Michael Brandt
|Screenplay: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
|Stars: Richard Gere (Paul Shepherdson), Topher Grace (Ben Geary), Martin Sheen (Tom Highland), Tamer Hassan (Bozlovski), Stephen Moyer (Brutus), Chris Marquette (Oliver), Odette Yustman (Natalie Geary), Stana Katic (Amber), Yuri Sardarov (Leo), Ivan Fedorov (The Scrounger), Ed Kelly (Senator Dennis Darden), Jeffrey Pierce (Agent Weaver), Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (Agent Burton)
|MPAA Rating: PG-13
|Year of Release: 2011
There is a scene about two-thirds of the way through the spy thriller The Double in which Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a determined young FBI agent, stands in front of a wall that is covered with crime scene photos of various murders committed over several decades throughout Europe by a mysterious Russian agent known only as Cassius. Ben has theorized that Cassius is the kind of killer who would return to his crime scenes to watch the investigation in order to get a sense of who is pursuing him, so it is possible that these photos might hold the key to his identity. Ben pulls out a magnifying glass and begins looking through the pictures, and the editing rhythm of the sequence intensifies each time the lens finds the same face, over and over again, thus confirming his suspicion. This should be a great revelatory moment—a cathartic, audience-popping “Aha!” discovery that culminates a long-building climax in grand style. The only problem is that we already know Cassisus’s identity and have known it for nearly an hour. In fact, you don’t even need to have seen the movie to know this; it’s revealed in the trailer.
Co-writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who have proven to be one of the sharpest writing teams turning out genre material in the last few years (their credits include the smart remake of 3:10 to Yuma and the hyperbolic comic book adaptation Wanted), take a major gamble by revealing Cassius’s identity so early, thus removing a major source of suspense and mystery. There are more secrets to be revealed at the end, and one suspects that they allowed us to know who Cassius is as a kind of red herring to distract us from wondering about other characters and events. Unfortunately, the early revelation takes so much wind out of the movie’s sails that we risk losing interest, so that by the time the subsequent surprises are unveiled, we are not as involved as we might have been.
Part of Brandt and Haas’s inspiration for The Double, which you likely missed because it got virtually no theatrical release, came revelations about long-term Russian spies working in the U.S., a reminder that there is still some heat left over from the Cold War. Since 9/11 our primary international fears have been widely fractured and dispersed, with the only real coherence revolving around Muslim extremists, terrorism, and the Middle East, so a return to the focused, old-school concerns about Russia feels simultaneously new and old. The narrative in The Double kicks off with the murder of a senator who is concerned about the new wave of Russian espionage, and the manner in which his throat is cut is reminiscent of Cassius, who has not been heard from since the fall of the Berlin Wall. CIA chief Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) decides to go to the expert, Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere), a retired CIA agent who spent years hunting Cassius and believes he is dead. Ben Geary, who wrote his Harvard master’s thesis on Cassius and has the boyish enthusiasm of someone who understands the world through books rather than direct experience, is not so sure. Hence, they are paired together—the veteran field operative and the newbie researcher—to flush Cassius out.
Michael Brandt, who is making his directorial debut, gives The Double a sharp, polished style that is never overbearing. He is smart enough to know that cheap visual tricks, hyperkinetic editing, and faux-documentary shakiness would only distract from the intrigue of the double- and triple-crosses going on, so he favors a no-frills approach that closely approximates the look of the action thrillers Hollywood was churning out in the 1980s (the cinematographer, Jeffrey L. Kimball, is a veteran of ’80s big action movies like Top Gun and Beverly Hill Cops II). He tends to rely on tension within the frame rather than constant cutting, and he gives the various action sequences a sense of weight, impact, and visual coherence that too many action movies today studiously lack.
Richard Gere gives one of his better performances in recent years, allowing his age (he is now 62) to add some existential heft to the character even as he reminds us that he is still fit and lithe enough to trade blows physically and intellectually with anyone else on screen. He and Topher Grace have good chemistry as they riff on the familiar cynical veteran-versus-idealistic rookie dynamic (Paul’s Cold War history weighs on him while Ben is sure that he can solve any mystery if he has enough data to work with). Yet, as much as the film works, one can’t help but feel that it would have worked much better if we didn’t know who Cassius was until closer to the final reel. You have to admire Brandt and Haas for taking such a gamble, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite pay off.
|The Double Blu-Ray|
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Audio commentary by director/co-writer Michael Brandt and co-writer/producer Derek Haas
|Release Date||January 31, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The 1080p transfer of The Double looks great, although it is so sharp and crisp that you can’t really tell that it was originally shot on film (close inspection reveals only minimal grain presence). Much of the film was shot with a darker, colder palette of blacks, browns, blues, and grays, although several sequences taking place in broad daylight have warm colors that really pop. Shadow detail is excellent throughout, and the transfer boasts strong contrast. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack does its job admirably, keeping dialogue clear and natural in the front soundstage while making good use of the surround channels for directionality and ambience.
|Co-writer/director Michael Brandt and co-writer/producer Derek Haas have been friends and writing partners since their college days at Baylor University, so they have an amiable, friendly, and fun vibe in their audio commentary. They have a lot of information to impart, especially about the day-to-day mechanics of making a relatively low-budget film that doesn’t look it (I was amazed to learn that it was shot in only 30 days entirely in Detroit standing in for Washington, D.C.). They also talk about their influences and the ideas behind the film and give plenty of credit to their collaborators, particularly cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball. Also on the disc are the original theatrical trailer and a 7-minute making-of featurette that includes brief interviews with stars Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, and Steven Moyer, as well as Brandt and Haas.
Overall Rating: (2.5)
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