Double, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe tries to find nice things to say about this '90s espionage throw-back...
When a United States Senator is brutally murdered, the evidence points to a Soviet assassin code-named ‘Cassius’. This should be impossible, however, because Cassius has been listed as dead for a long time. The powers that be gather the efforts of the two men who know the assassin best – Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere), a retired CIA operative who spent his career tracking Cassius, and Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a hotshot young FBI Agent and family man who has studied the killer's every move. Ben thinks he knows Cassius, but Paul knows a lot more about the man he claims to have killed. Now, time is running out to stop this merciless killing machine before he finds his next target.
The Double is among the more generic, mediocre espionage thrillers I’ve ever seen. It’s rarely an actively bad film, but it’s even more rare that it sets its sights beyond the middle. First time director Michael Brandt (who has worked as an A-list writer in Hollywood for some time now) has an obvious affection for early ‘90s thrillers and appropriately apes the slick styles of craftsman directors like Phillip Noyce and Martin Campbell. Assuming this was his intent (which he doesn’t really discuss on the commentary track, so I’m not sure), Brandt proves he has a solid understanding of the filmmaking process, but doesn’t do much to impress beyond the bare essentials. The action sequences, what few there are, feature a minor flutter of post-‘70s style shaky camera/crash zoom, and occasionally pensive shots of Gere break into cool slo-mo, but for the most part this feels like a 15-20 year old film. I dig Brandt’s use of older motifs and think it gives the film a nice flavour, but also think that this particular story could actually have been better served by a more modern, post-Paul Greengrass action set-piece approach. At the very least this would lend the film some desperately needed immediacy.
Brandt and co-writer Derek Haas’ story suffers early issues because he expects us to be interested in a lot of story-specific mythology. Paul’s past involvements with espionage don’t carry much weight beyond Gere’s pained performance. This doesn’t matter so much once the layers begin to be peeled away about 30 minutes in to the film, but makes for an awkward thud of a build to the big twist. This twist invigorates the film a bit, but all too quickly Brandt settles down into a rut of entirely too understated scenes of further unraveling. There is definitely something good in this slow burn approach and the basic thrust of the plot is actually somewhat unique, but even at a rather taut 98 minutes, the overall pacing is slack. There’s also something to be said for Brandt moving the reveal to the final act, that perhaps the audience is given too much information too early. To the same token, the secondary reveal might come a little too late, leaving not enough breathing room until the final twist. The early ‘90s-ness extends to the relatively small cast, specifically Richard Gere and Martin Sheen. Sheen isn’t on screen a whole lot, but ekes out yet another warm and grizzled performance, while Gere (an actor I’ve never loved) is the crux of the entire film. It would be easy to accuse Gere of coasting through this role, but he does a lot with a trite character. The duality within the character clearly piqued his interest in the project, but one would expect that Brandt and Haas’ awkward prose would’ve given him a little pause. Topher Grace has ended up in a place in his career where I just assume he’s a villain disguised as a protagonist. This actually works in the film’s favour, but I couldn’t help but giggle anytime Grace emoted genuine anger.
As stated in the review, The Double often apes the general style of ‘90s thrillers, and this extends to the use of what appears to be Super 35 film, blocked off into 2.35:1 framing. Detail levels are sharp, especially in close-up, and the more complex backgrounds feature effectively separated elements. Details only fall apart on occasion, such as the big, wide establishing shots, which tend to turn a bit mushy. The basic pallet is quite warm, which leads skin tones into orange and red territory, with a big, fat emphasis on orange. Not surprisingly, unfortunately, this means all cool sequences and contrast end up some where between blue and green, which means we’re back in the family territory of teal. Even the coldest, most stark environments are subtly infiltrated by these prevalent tones. The tealness of it all is at its silliest when you realize the vast majority of the undershirts are teal instead of white. The most vibrant highlights are the pinks in Geary’s home, though reds tend to pop pretty effectively as well. The flashback sequences are beautifully muted, with consistently deep black levels, and bright, blown out white levels. These scenes also feature pretty heavy film grain, which also sets them apart from the mostly clean base images. The transfer’s steady issue is over-sharpening effects, specifically fine lines of edge-enhancement.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack follows the basic expectations set by modern espionage thrillers. The channels are pretty consistently aflutter with ambience and steady music, even during the most basic dialogue sequences. Beyond the basic value of well-placed directional effects and subtle ambient additions, there isn’t a whole lot of aggression or power in the track. The climax features a relatively intense car chase that gives the track a little more to do in terms of impact, dynamic range, and LFE presence. This is quickly followed by a few shoot-outs, which give the sound designers some good excuses for directional movement. Hard working composer John Debney’s score has real warmth, and at its best throbs with Bernard Herrmann-esque deep string themes. The music rarely moves too far outside the stereo channels, but fills out the quieter sequences quite effectively.
The extras begin with a commentary track featuring writer/director Michael Brandt and co-writer Derrick Haas. This long time writing team works pretty well together on the track to be both warm and informative, starting the track off with a self-deprecating joke. I found it more or less impossible to tell Brandt and Haas apart, which is generally fine since they’re both on point in terms of factoids. The wry tone wasn’t enough to hold my interest for the entire runtime, or change my opinion on the film, but their argument for revealing the first act twist so early is at least interesting (though I still don’t agree). I enjoyed the brief discussion about filming around my home-town of Tucson, Arizona. The disc also features a super fluffy behind the scenes EPK featuring interviews (7:50, HD) with Brandt, Haas, Gere, Grace, Martin Sheen, and Stephen Moyer, and a trailer.
It’s not as bad as its almost non-existent reputation suggests, but The Double is pretty faceless and dull overall. There’s something in the twisty-turny script, but editing choices leave reveals flat, and the pacing is glacial. Richard Gere’s most steadfast fans will get something out of his solid performance, but the rest of us can probably skip it. This Blu-ray looks and sounds just fine, but features very little in terms of extra material.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 31st January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Writer/Director and Co-Writer Commentary, Behind the Scenes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Brandt
Cast: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, Odette Yustman, Stephen Moyer
Length: 98 minutes
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