Super first directorial effort for “3:10 to Yuma” writer Michael Brandt features layered darkness upon a simmering foundation of secrecy and fear.
It is good to see Richard Gere again, not to mention Martin Sheen. We have to assume they had their choice of a hundred scripts before they chose this tightly wound spy thriller. They chose a screenplay written by the top-notch team of edgy anti-hero screenplays, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas.
In their previous underground indie hit, Brandt and Haas penned “3:10 to Yuma” (along with Halsted Welles). The sweltering, dark anti-hero parade starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale was, and is, a hit on the cult-indie circuit.
“The Double” exudes even darker undertones than “Yuma.” Old hands Gere and Sheen turn out to be remarkably able to don the suits of latter day paladins and twist the edginess dial to full-on.
Gere plays Paul Shepherdson, a retired CIA super-spook who claims to have neutralized the Soviet super-assassin code-named “Cassius.” When a US senator gets uppity with the anti-Soviet talk and is found with most of his head disconnected from his neck, aging CIA supervisor Tom Highland (Sheen) knows Shepherdson cannot resist.
The ex-agent is obsessed with Cassius and tormented by the possibility that the brainwashed monster might be on the loose. Something has to be done.
Rookie CIA spy Ben Geary (Topher Grace) is bright eyed and bushy tailed and dying for the chance to make his mark. More to the point, he wrote his Master’s thesis on Cassius and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the man. He knows everything about him from his hat size to his favorite drink.
The brilliant, dedicated rookie is teamed up with the disillusioned, bitter veteran Shepherdson to find and take out the smartest, cruelest and best-hidden assassin of all time. A movie is born.
Plus, Ben Geary has a fantastically sexy wife and a darling child, who form the perfect target for a psycho killer. This injects a persistent kinkiness into the plot; a background of underhanded deceit and danger dealing with the highest stakes.
The plot has just the right amount of twists and turns, although some of them do not make perfect sense when put together at the end. Brandt and Haas may have overdone the whodunit angle when they simply could have relied on Gere to do the heavy lifting.
In his debut project as director, Michael Brandt has burst out of the gate like a thoroughbred. Of course, when it comes to actors in possession of the chops in this film, he probably stood aside much of the time. Even so, the film has a perfect pace and keeps up the tension until the very end.
The movie does this with only a few grisly scenes of garrote surgery, courtesy of the dreaded Cassius. Well placed and realistic, they carry an impact that is more coldly, white-collar political, rather than horror-slasher bloody.
The PG-13 rating is fair; this is not a gross production. Rather, it is a cool film with a message to convey. The message is that if you do not like Richard Gere and Martin Sheen before entering the theatre, you will when you leave. They are magnetic.
Lots of night shots, of course, gradually giving way to the light of day as the truth comes out. Great musical sound track with those dark, percussive beats dueling it out with the lonely and abstract strings.
A couple good flashbacks to cement the back-story in our minds and just enough distance to allow us to smugly reassure ourselves that it could never happen to us, ensuring a good, old fashioned intellectual spy-thriller. All the mystique and heart-rending tragedy with none of the bomb blasts, car crashes or machine gun fire that increasing substitutes for acting in these flicks.
A creditable beginning for new director Michael Brandt who definitely had the team on his side with this effort. One hopes he is able to stick with the intellectual noir and attract this kind of talent, in sound and cinematography as well as acting, in his greatly anticipated future films.
Directed by: Michael Brandt
Written by: Michael Brandt and Derek Haas
Starring: Richard Gere, Stephen Moyer, Odette Annable and Topher Grace
Release Date: October 28, 2011
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images and language
Running Time: 98 Minutes