Title: The Double

Studio: Image Entertainment

Directed By: Michael Brandt

Written By: Michael Brandt, Derek Haas

Cast: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, Stephen Moyer, Odette Annable, Stana Katic

Screened at: Broadway, NYC, 9/19/11

Opens: October 28, 2011

Just after President Bush met the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2001, he told the nation, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy…I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Sorry, Mr. Bush, but that was the first of your many errors. The Russians, smarting over their loss of empire and prestige and still threatened by NATO, are continuing the Cold War, though with a battle much more cordial than one that found President Kennedy risking nuclear war over Soviet missile bases in Cuba. “The Double” is yet another movie torn from yesterday’s headlines, more specifically a big news story that hit the media recently. Just last year, a twelfth Russian spy inside the U.S. working at Microsoft was arrested and deported after he tested codes at the world’s biggest software company headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Members of that spy ring have been portrayed in the media as ineffective, but the software picked up by the band of spies could have given Russia significant leverage in computerized espionage.

Similarly—and also by way of contrast—director Michael Brandt offers to us a Russian agent believed by the CIA and FBI to be sticking around Washington DC, though what this agent named Cassius was after seemed not to be U.S. secrets but rather a need to kill people. This Cassius has a record of assassinations in Helsinki, Madrid, Dublin and other parts, knocking off not only Westerners but also his fellow Russian and Poles. His motivation? Search me, as not only was this considered unimportant by the folks who bring us “The Double,” but the tale, like other spy stories, has a couple of twists which serve only to confuse the audience further. Even worse, despite the scary, dissonant music on the soundtrack, “The Double” lacks tension and is more of an intellectual exercise than it is a down-and-dirty political thriller Among the baffling points in the confused plot is the idea that Richard Gere, in real life 62 years old and here playing a retired CIA agent, is able to overcome at least three much younger men including one tough serving a jail sentence who probably works out every day and shows off a deep facial scar that brands him as a man who did not make a living as a librarian. And Gere’s character overcomes one tough fellow even after taking a bullet to his stomach.

The story takes off when a U.S. senator is killed in the style of a notorious Russian spy named Cassius, a man who, like his namesake in ancient Rome is an assassin but one who kills in his own personal style—encircling his victims’ necks from the middle instead of ear-to-ear and cutting upward instead of across. Both the CIA, led by Tom Highland (Martin Sheen) and the FBI believe Cassius to be alive, though retired CIA agent Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) tries to convince his superiors that the double-agent is dead. Since rookie FBI agent Ben Geary (Topher Grace) had written his Master’s Thesis at Harvard about Cassius, who began his wave of crime in 1988, Geary is teamed up with Shepherdson, brought out of retirement, assigned to track down Cassius if the latter is alive and bring him to justice.

The movie’s core is the relationship between the young upstart, Ben Geary, and the grizzled old Paul Shepherdson, and in this regard the connection is made—though Geary seems horrified at the violence committed by his co-worker toward those who may have information about Cassius while for his part, Geary believes in making “a connection.” This good-cop, bad-cop tactic gets frequent attention from the media, with those who believe that torture should be used in some cases to gain information while others believe that playing “friends” with the enemy will evoke truer intelligence. The younger man who has a wife and two kids is compelled to work with an amoral fellow with no family at all, and for the most part they get along until the picture’s bang-up conclusion. Still, absent real tension, an unbelievable show of physical power by the agent in his sixties, and, worse, motivations and strategies that do not ring true, “The Double” is a pale imitation of what we should expect from a political thriller.

Rated PG-13. 98 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

Story – C

Acting – B

Technical – C+

Overall – C

Richard Gere in The Double

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