The Double (2011)
Richard Gere, right, and Topher Grace in the thriller “The Double.”
Choosing Sides in the Revolving-Spy Game
In “The Double,” a moldy, post-cold-war spy thriller that vainly aspires to be a contemporary “Patriot Games,” Richard Gere, in his enigmatic, sinister mode, portrays Paul Shepherdson, a former C.I.A. officer who is suddenly called out of retirement. The killing of a United States senator on the streets of Washington has all the markings of crimes committed by a notorious international assassin and Soviet double agent, code named Cassius, who is presumed to be dead.
Shepherdson spent the better part of two decades pursuing Cassius. So his boss, Highland (Martin Sheen), teams him with an eager new F.B.I. recruit, the Harvard-educated Ben Geary (Topher Grace), who wrote his thesis on the case and is convinced that Cassius remains at large. A half-hour into the movie, after some coy flashbacks that place Shepherdson at this or that killing site, it is bluntly revealed that he and Cassius are one and the same. It is hardly a surprise, since the trailer gives it away. Immediately the steam goes out of the movie.
Once this bit of bogus suspense is cleared up, “The Double” becomes a tedious, impenetrable cat-and-mouse game involving Russian double and triple agents. The movie reserves its one big reveal — a preposterous, paranoid whopper — for the very end, long after you have given up investing yourself in the story, written by the director Michael Brandt and his longtime collaborator Derek Haas.
Even that revelation, which arrives too late and too fast, is botched. By this point “The Double” has demonstrated so little connection to the real world that it feels like a fantasy invented by the creators of an espionage board game.
Mr. Gere, now a spry 62, gives the role his best shot. But his Shepherdson, who lives a shadowy loner’s existence, has none of the kinky glamour of this actor’s greatest villain, Dennis Peck, the fiendish Los Angeles cop from Mike Figgis’s Freudian nightmare, “Internal Affairs.” Mr. Gere’s beady eyes and crooked-toothed half-grin can go only so far in signaling danger from a character who has no discernible personality beyond his code name and his infamous history. For the life of me, I have no idea why he has resumed his murderous career except that he seems to enjoy it.
Mr. Grace’s Geary is a dutiful little bureaucrat with a picture-perfect family; in other words, he is a charisma-free drip. There is no ominous electricity between Geary and Shepherdson as the naïve Geary, with his earnest, deer-in-the-headlights gaze, belatedly comes to suspect his partner.
So how did “The Double” come to be? The production notes assert that Mr. Brandt and Mr. Haas, who were among the writers of the remake of “3:10 to Yuma” in 2007, “wanted to be in the vanguard of the renaissance of the spy thriller genre after news broke about the covert Russian spies discovered in the U.S. and Britain.” But what renaissance are they talking about?
It seems much more likely that those events were merely an excuse to dig into the drawer and resurrect an old screenplay that had been sitting there for years in the faint hope of starting a trend.
“The Double” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Intense scenes of action and violence.
Opens on Friday in New York and Los Angeles.
Directed by Michael Brandt; written by Mr. Brandt and Derek Haas; director of photography, Jeffrey Kimball; edited by Steven Mirkovich; production design by Giles Masters; costumes by Aggie Guerard Rodgers; produced by Ashok Amritraj, Patrick Aiello, Mr. Haas and Andrew Deane; released by Image Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.