The writing team behind Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma resurrects the Cold War-era espionage thriller with this spy movie that imagines Russian infiltration continued even after the fall of the Berlin wall. Inspired by recent news stories about Russki spies who have been found behind U.S. and British borders, Michael Brandt (who also directs his first film) and Derek Haas have crafted a throwback genre flick, complete with a throwback lead that gives away its double cross early yet maintains enough mystery to keep viewers moderately intrigued.
When the slick killing of a U.S. senator bears the distinctive trademark of Soviet assassin Cassius, former CIA operative Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) is recruited out of retirement to finally close the case that he worked his entire career. Paul insists that Cassius is dead, although he can’t prove it to the agency’s satisfaction. Ben Geary (Topher Grace), a rookie FBI agent who wrote his master’s thesis on Cassius, is convinced that the legendary enemy is not only alive and kicking but right under their noses. This odd couple—a mature (yet still quite handsome) field agent and a young academic—is assigned to investigate a string of murders (of which the senator’s death is just the first).
To reveal that Paul is The Double can’t really be considered a spoiler—in addition to the film’s rather obvious name (plastered under Gere’s mug on the one-sheet), it’s given away in the trailer. The twist is that Paul is the very man he’s hunting, Cassius, but because this revelation occurs so early in the script, you’re left waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everything about the film—from its classic score to its familiar stylistic conventions (a visitor waiting in the dark, the click on the line of a tapped phone)—screams espionage thriller. There must be something more at work here.
Indeed, there is, and it’s satisfying enough to gratify those who spend the film guessing what it might be. Meanwhile, we wait and watch while Ben catches on to what we already know, a process that’s at once too easy and too confusing: Ben’s colleague presents a logic problem that can prove that Paul is Cassius—or, rather, disprove that he’s not—but it hinges on Paul’s appearance in the photos of all of Cassius’ crime scenes, which is perfectly reasonable given he was the lead investigator on the case.
Like many espionage thrillers, The Double inspires shifting allegiances in its viewers. As Ben closes in on the double agent, Paul grows more formidable, and further revelations cause one to wonder, “Who’s really the bad guy?”