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The Double Review

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by Casimir Harlow Feb 22, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    The Double Review

    Whatever happened to Richard Gere?

    Perhaps few would regard him as a great actor, but he’s still made some good – and a couple of great – movies over his 40-odd years in the industry. Yet, despite a few peaks, he’s had plenty more troughs, making numerous films that are probably not worth watching but for his performance. He had a promising start, making films like Terrence “The Thin Red Line” Malick’s magic-hour period drama Days of Heaven and Paul “Taxi Driver” Schrader’s dark thriller American Gigolo; becoming internationally renowned for An Officer and a Gentleman; doing Breathless, a reasonably enjoyable remake of A Bout de Souffle and starring opposite Kim Basinger in the atmospheric New Orleans thriller No Mercy.

    Although his most famous role may be opposite Julia Roberts’s Pretty Woman back in 1990, in the same year he also did the underrated Mike “Leaving Las Vegas” Figgis cop thriller, Internal Affairs, co-starring with another good peaks-and-troughs actor, Andy Garcia. This was probably the highest peak of Gere’s career, and, since then we have had a mixed bag of movies including everything from The Jackal to Runaway Bride; First Knight to Red Corner, with perhaps only Primal Fear standing out amidst the rest.

    Of late, whilst the budgets of his movies have steadily declined – some of them no longer even being released theatrically – he has actually had some more impressive performances in amidst these smaller movies: he starred in the critically-acclaimed The Hoax, put in a great performance in the little-known thriller The Flock, and stood out amidst the cop clichés in the good-but-not-great crime drama Brooklyn’s Finest.

    His latest film is The Double, the directorial debut of screenwriter Michael Brandt, who has worked on the scripts for films like Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma. And, despite the presence of Gere, it really is a very limited, rough-around-the-edges spy thriller which has a few good ideas – and a few good twists – but generally presents them in a half-assed, unfinished fashion.

    After the assassination of a prominent Senator, the CIA find evidence that leads them to believe that a Soviet operative named Cassius, who has not been active in years, may still be conducting missions. To this end they bring back into the fold retired CIA agent Paul Sheperdson, the renowned expert on Cassius, who helped take down all of the Soviet assassin’s hit squad, and partner him up with a young, upcoming FBI Agent who once did a study on Cassius. Of course, in the world of spies, nobody is quite who they seem; motives are concealed and everything appears to be one big chess game, where only the most strategic player can rule the board.

    I have to say that I did enjoy The Double, despite its shortcomings, but it is still far from a good movie.

    Anybody who has seen the trailer (which, admittedly, may not actually be that many people) will know far more of the plot than I have chosen to divulge in this review. Basically the central story thread hangs on a number of betrayals and revelations including two major twists that bookend the film. The first of these comes by the end of the first act, and the production Studio obviously thought that it was therefore not too much of a spoiler to reveal it in the trailer. Certainly it makes the film sound more intriguing, but I suspect it may be even more enjoyable to watch without even knowing the early twist.

    Suffice to say, the twists and double-crosses, however unusual and unpredictable (or not, if you’ve seen the trailer) still do not make up for this production’s shortcomings. It’s a low budget piece, which, whilst reasonably professionally-made – it was shot by acclaimed cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball (M:i-2, Revenge, The Expendables) – still feels like straight-to-DVD, or even made-for-TV, in terms of quality. Just wait for the cheap flashback scenes, where the actors, who are supposed to be 20 years younger, are merely given a sepia twinge and put through a filter; you know they were working with pennies if this is all they could come up with. The convoluted plot, which could have been the one saving grace of the movie if handled properly, comes across as disjointed and frequently illogical – or, at least, implausible – and you never feel satisfied by the twists and turns the plot takes – nor driven by the plight of the characters, both good and bad.

    I don’t really know why Gere picked this movie. He seems a cut above the rest and, despite the fact that he tries his utmost to get into the role, often feels like his heart isn’t quite in it. That said, his ex-CIA character is a whole lot more interesting than, say, his anti-hero-with-a-terrible-accent in The Jackal (that lacklustre Willis-starring remake of The Day of the Jackal). Perhaps the role looked good on paper – I can certainly see how the premise, in theory, could have been intriguing – but surely he should have been more wary of working with a first-time director whose background in screenwriting isn’t exactly stellar, despite a couple of reasonable successes. Co-writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas had been working on the film when it was originally slated for modest Studio backing, but, when that fell through, took on the film as a more personal project, coping with the subsequent, vastly-reduced budget. I wonder whether Gere was on-board right from the get-go, or whether he was drafted in after the Studios backed out.

    Partnering Gere with Topher Grace, who was actually quite good in Predators, feels painfully clichéd, and seldom works well for their characters. Their relationship is never established and so the subsequent twists, doubts and internal investigations do not flow naturally. Ultimately, Grace isn’t in the least bit compelling or convincing – and his character represents one of the least plausible elements in a film which is founded upon implausible elements. He also crumbles every time he is in the remote vicinity of Gere, the seasoned actor clearly capable of overshadowing him even on a bad day.

    Support comes from the likes of True Blood’s Stephen Moyer, who tries – and succeeds, to a reasonably extent – to escape the pigeon-holing of his now-tedious vampiric seclusion, and Martin Sheen. Yes, the Martin Sheen. Apocalypse Now? Almost a decade as President on The West Wing? Now he’s reduced to – at best – flimsy cameos for the likes of Scorsese’s unnecessary remake of Infernal Affairs, The Departed, and the upcoming, even-more-unnecessary reboot, The Amazing Spiderman. Recently he teamed up with his son Emilio Estevez for the reasonably well-received drama The Way, and yet here we are, with him returning to lacklustre cameos for The Double. Oddly, he doesn’t actually look that out of place in this film, and perhaps that’s the most worrying thing about his contribution.

    Still, Gere is something of a saving grace. Even with a misshapen project like this, he is a very watchable actor who normally does his best, whatever the limitations of the material. Sure, he seems utterly wasted here, but, then again, I prefer him doing lead vehicles like this than the kind of films that arguably better actors like De Niro and Pacino have churned out recently (Righteous Kill, Stone, 88 Minutes). The plot, whilst clumsy in execution, is still intriguing enough in terms of its basic premise, and there are a couple of nice, reasonably tense sequences where spies and hitmen butt heads and where true loyalties are revealed. Go into it with low expectations and this is a fairly enjoyable almost-straight-to-DVD effort which will, at the very least, keep you mildly entertained – and, occasionally, guessing – for its thankfully trim 90-minute runtime.