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The Double

TedFlicks Rating: ★★★½☆

$8.25 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50

ARISE, YE SLEEPER CELLS!  YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR LOVED ONES!

At 62 years old, Richard Gere is just about the perfect age to play retired CIA man Paul Shepherdson in “The Double,” a spy/crime thriller that goes into limited release on 28 October and opens in more US cities on 4 November.  He’s not quite a par on a par with Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill in “North by Northwest,” and helmer/co-writer Michael Brandt is no Alfred Hitchcock, but plenty worse has been said about directors, actors, and roles, even by your critic.  “The Double” is a fairly tightly wrought spy thriller that moves along at a good clip.  It offers significant entertainment value despite a few loose ends.  And with Topher Grace cast against type as a heavy and the versatile Martin Sheen as Shepherdson’s former CIA boss, Tom Highland, one could do a lot worse for one’s ticket money.

Plot centers on the search for the killer of a US Senator (Edward Austin Kelly) found dead in Washington, DC.  The CIA bigfoots the FBI because the murder bears the hallmarks of Cassius, a KGB assassin thought to be long dead.  The bigfooter is Martin Sheen at the murder scene.  The same day, Shepherdson, on his way home, stops to watch kids play little league baseball.  He chats with one of the mothers in the stands.  Herein lies pic’s first loose end.  She asks him if he has a kid in the game.  He doesn’t.  He just likes to watch kids having fun.  In 2011 any mother of a little leaguer confronted with such an answer from a lone, older man would be on the cell phone to the vice cops in a heartbeat.

Next loose end:  How is it that neither the CIA nor the FBI recognizes murder by garrote?  Duh?  That’s how US Senator Darden is killed, and the spooks are acting as if his throat were cut by a knife in a pattern used only by Cassius.

Once auds have got past the loose ends, pic’s action satisfies but requires close attention.  Between present action and flashbacks there are more twists and turns than on a back road in Connecticut.

Because Shepherdson was the CIA man on the tail of Cassius, Highland recalls him to duty and teams him with young FBI man Ben Geary, played by Grace.  Put aside for a minute any confusion between “Gere” and “Geary.”  We are sure it is purely coincidental.  Highland is sure that Cassius is back on the job.  Shepherdson insists that he killed Cassius eons ago.  The Mutt & Jeff pairing portends a buddy film, but “The Double” is anything but.  Geary wrote a thesis on Cassius which attracted not only the attention of the FBI and CIA, but also of Shepherdson.  That’s how he got the FBI job.  He also speaks fluent Russian.  The guy is just too good a geek to be true.  Stuck at a desk job, he ostensibly can’t wait to get into the field with Shepherdson.

As pic’s flashbacks illuminate, Shepherdson is Cassius.  He was a double agent during the cold war, spying for the CIA and doing contract hits for the KGB.  His cover was so good that almost no one knew his real identity.  When the KGB killed his wife and infant daughter, Shepherdson settled scores and smoked every KGB guy who knew who he was.  He also ended the double agent thing and worked full time for the CIA until retirement.

As said revelations unfold, Shepherdson and Geary play cat and mouse with each other.  Since he is Cassius, Shepherdson knows that the murder of Senator Darden was a copycat job designed to smoke him out.  He starts retracing his steps, sometimes with Geary and sometimes without.  This leads to a bunch of unpleasant places and unsavoury people, some of whom have motive to kill him.  Richard Gere is at his best in such a role.  His heavily lined face reveals little.  And he conveys much with nuance.  A little bit of surveillance on Geary reveals that he communicates in an old KGB code.  That’s his tell.  Shepherdson confronts him and extracts from him that he is a traveler placed in the US by the KGB, whose job is to facilitate the work of Russian agents in America.  Geary and his family were sent to America when he was eight years old.  The successor to the KGB activated him two years before pic’s action.  Geary is the Double.

But like Shepherdson, Geary has his Achilles’ Heel.  It’s a beautiful wife and kid in a suburban house on a tree-lined street.  Once the shooting stops, Geary has to make a choice.  It’s not exactly a Hollywood ending, but if auds have paid sufficient attention to this complicated flick, it is a satisfying payoff.

At 98 minutes, pacing and cutting are good.  Lensing is more than up to par, and sound recording leaves little to be desired.  Set design is appropriate to the material.  Freshman feature director Michael Brandt has a background as a writer and editor.  He co-wrote the screenplay with Derek Haas.  Years at the keyboard and in the cutting room may have contributed to his discipline at the throttle.  “The Double” is rated PG-13 largely for violence.  An astute kid should be able to follow the plot.

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