If you’ve ever seen an episode of the classic American television series Columbo, you know how atypical its formula was. Whereas most murder mystery programs leave you guessing as to who the killer is until the end, Columbo showed you flat out whodunit from the very beginning — and we had to ride along with Peter Falk to see how he pieces it all together. When I first started watching The Double — a film I had absolutely no knowledge of prior to my viewing, and opted to observe only due to my bizarre affinity for stars Richard Gere and Topher Grace — I thought for sure the story was going to be very Columbo-like, in as much as a big twist is revealed early on in the film.
Fortunately, my interest in this tale of murder and intrigue didn’t end there. A modern take on the classic Cold War spy flicks of the past, The Double finds Richard Gere as ex-CIA agent Paul Shepherdson, who is called into action once again by his old agency boss (Martin Sheen, who seems to appear in about sixty-three different movies a year) when a senator is killed in a fashion that is similar to that of an assassin Shepherdson hunted years before. The killing suggests that the assailant known as Cassius is alive and well — a notion carried forth by young FBI hotshot Ben Geary (Topher Grace) — but Paul is convinced it’s a copycat. The reason why is simple; alas, I feel it is not worth spoiling (though it’s revealed in the trailer, dammit).
Unwillingly paired with the kid from the FBI, Paul tries to ward off Ben’s eagerness to submerse himself in the identity and location of Cassius, when their respective bureaus learn a group of Russian agents have entered the US illegally via Mexico (at last, the real reason the Republicans are so gung-ho about border patrol is revealed!), with one person of interest in particular a popular item on both of their lists. Meanwhile, the married with two kids boy Ben starts to put the pieces together (just like Lt. Columbo), which leads to even more surprises as this enjoyable (if somewhat imperfect) spy thriller comes to a satisfying (and somewhat unexpected) conclusion. British actors Tamer Hassan and Stephen Moyer are on-hand as bad guys, while Americans Chris Marquette and Odette Yustman (House, M.D.) co-star as Grace’s colleague and wife (respectively).
I think one of the reasons I enjoyed The Double so much — aside from its interesting casting of the leads — is that it’s not a film that wastes too much time on superfluous matters. There is no sex in the film, as it is something that isn’t required in this type of a spy thriller (and besides, that’s James Bond’s forte, right?). Yes, it’s a b-movie: there’s no doubt about that. But, instead of wasting time on any unnecessary scenes of exploitation, The Double keeps its eyes on the road and drives us down the road to our intended destination — ne’er missing a bump to keep us interested. And, while said method of storytelling makes a more-than-noble sacrifice in terms of character development, it ultimately results in being fun.
Image Entertainment brings us a fine transfer of The Double on Blu-ray, with a beautiful presentation and soundtrack. The only extras included with this home video release are a commentary by writer Derek Haas and co-writer/director Michael Brandt (who shot this thriller in only thirty days, so kudos to them for that, too!), a behind-the-scenes offering featuring interviews with select cast members, and that trailer that so disparagingly spoils the first major plot twist.
Oh well — it’s still good b-movie fun. Give it a whirl so you can see how damn handsome Gere’s hair looks if nothing else.