Some movies arrive amid thunderous hype, presaged by posters, billboards, TV commercials, and talk-show appearances, to the extent that anyone even remotely interested in film knows their names, who’s in them, what they’re about, and when they’re opening. And then there’s The Double, a spy thriller with big-name actors, written and directed by people who’ve worked on blockbusters in the past, yet it’s showing up almost completely unheralded. Roughly 99 percent of the time, if a movie that seems like it should be a big deal appears almost out of the blue, it’s because it’s lousy. The Double doesn’t exactly buck that trend.
First-time director Michael Brandt and his co-writer Derek Haas—who previously worked on the screenplays for 3:10 To Yuma and Wanted—start with a fairly clever idea: Richard Gere plays a retired CIA agent who’s called back into action by his former boss Martin Sheen because “Cassius,” a Soviet assassin whom Gere pursued for decades, has begun killing again. Gere is paired with Topher Grace, a bright young FBI agent with no significant field experience, who became an expert on the Cassius case at Quantico. But Grace’s thick files lack one major detail: that Gere never intended to catch Cassius. Gere is a lot closer to his supposed “nemesis” than he’s ever let on.
The problem with The Double is that Brandt and Haas never figure out how best to frame this premise. The movie isn’t witty or thrilling—at least not any more so than a typical episode of any basic-cable action series—and while it holds a few surprises, the twists feel writerly, not organic. The Double is meant to be anchored by the relationship between Grace and Gere, the latter of whom worries that this kid is following the path he once trod, putting the mission ahead of his personal life. But Gere is on autopilot and Grace doesn’t look like he could’ve made it out of community college, let alone the FBI Academy. The stars come off like stand-ins, helping Brandy and Haas practice their blocking and plotting until they’re ready to make a real movie.