11/02/2011 08:46 am ET Updated Jan 02, 2012

Movie Review: The Double

It's hard to get a movie made - it's even harder to get it distributed.

So it means something when a film starring Richard Gere, Topher Grace and Martin Sheen gets what seems to be a perfunctory release while going straight to VOD. But not what you think.

In fact, The Double, in which the unlikely pair star, is a sleek, taut spy-thriller with echoes of Day of the Jackal. You know early on who the bad guy is; the question is how long he'll play cat-and-mouse with the hero before dispatching him.

In the film, which opened Oct. 28, Gere plays Paul Shepherdson, a retired CIA agent who is called back to duty after the murder of an American senator in Washington, D.C. It's not the murder itself but the technique: an expertly cut throat, the trademark of Cassius, a Russian assassin Shepherdson had chased until he disappeared a decade earlier.

Though reluctant, Paul is pulled into the case and teamed with Ben Geary (Grace), a still-green operative who wrote his thesis on Cassius. Indeed, Ben seems to know so much about Paul that Paul feels a little threatened - but also fears for Ben's life. Cassius, after all, has a wide network and obviously must be aware of Ben's investigation; Paul warns Ben that he, too, could become one of Cassius' victims, if the killer feels Ben is getting too close

It's hard to talk more about the plot without spoiling the film's surprises. Let's just say that, as Paul and Ben follow the clues, it becomes apparent that no one is who they seem to be; hence, the film's title.

So why is The Double getting this sort of short-shrift release instead of something more indicative of its star power and quality? That's a good question, one that someone with a higher pay grade will have to answer.

I've read comments that describe the film as confusing and too complicated, which is the complaint of lazy viewers. "The Double" pays rewards to close watching - and when the inevitable reversals occur, they force an instantaneous reassessment of what you've seen. In that sense, there's a mind-twisting satisfaction to be had

Gere, once a master of the emotional outburst, has become an entertainingly minimal actor, one who can convey regret, threat or pleasure with the barest change of facial expression. Here he imparts a weariness to a character who has seen and done too much - which makes an interesting contrast to the eager (but not puppyish) Grace.

The Double is one of those dark, even nihilistic-seeming thrillers where every turn seems to be a turn for the worse. Seek it out; it's definitely worth a look.

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