Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cold Warriors: The Double

The Cold War is over, technically speaking, but a lot of unfinished business remains. A notorious Soviet assassin is one of those loose ends. Never captured but presumed dead for years, the American intelligence services are slightly concerned when the body of a murdered senator bears the signature techniques of the killer code-named Cassius. Unfortunately, the game is afoot once again for his temporarily retired CIA nemesis in Michael Brandt’s The Double (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Paul Shepherdson thought it all ended with a bang. Cassius’s body was never recovered, but since the killings stopped, closure appeared to be achieved. Years later, the Senate’s leading critic of neo-Soviet Russian aggression is brutally murdered. Pointing to a few variations here and there, Shepherdson insists it is the work of a copycat. However, FBI analyst Ben Geary is certain it is Cassius’s work. He is also something of an expert on the old Soviet bogeyman, having written his master’s thesis on Shepherdson’s investigation. Reluctantly, the CIA veteran agrees to an inter-agency odd-couple pairing with Geary, trying to pour cold water on his enthusiasm every step of the way.

Refreshingly, the Russians and the Soviets before them are the villains in The Double, while the Americans simply scramble to counter their infiltration campaign. (It is a bit of a stretch making the murdered hawkish senator a Democrat and his Russian puppet counterpart a Republican, but if that is the concession that had to be made, so be it.) On the macro political level at least, Double is quite sound and realistic.

Double takes great delight in springing two big twists on the audience, yet inexplicably gives away the first one in the trailer. Several more follow, which naturally alter our perceptions of characters a second time. While viewers will be primed for the second switcheroo, Double has some very smart investigative detail that makes the dot-connecting process considerably more engaging than usual.

As Shepherdson, Richard Gere has the right steely, grizzled presence, maintaining a consistent world weary character throughout his character’s revelations. Frankly, Double is his best work in years (maybe since Chicago). Conversely, Topher Grace’s Geary looks like a mere boy among men. Granted, he is a rookie, but he does not even looking convincing wearing a suit. His presence is a major albatross weighing down the film. Still, the film has Martin Sheen suitably commanding as CIA director Tom Highland and True Blood’s Stephen Moyer nicely projects feral cunning as Brutus, the only captured member of Cassius’s team.

In his directorial debut, 3:10 to Yuma co-writer Brandt maintains a decent if not exactly breakneck pace. He has a nice handle on the details, but never delivers a centerpiece action sequence. Still, Double is a solid Cold War-reloaded thriller genre fans and Russophobes should enjoy when it opens Friday (10/28) in New York at the AMC Empire and Village 7.