The Double

Author: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
Genre: Thriller/Action
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

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Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A retired CIA agent and an FBI profiler team up to track a Cold War assassin who has started killing again.

Synopsis:

Paris, 1988. A Soviet assassin known only as CASSIUS stalks his target through the streets, before finding an isolated spot in the park. In a brutal, swift attack, Cassius disarms and kills the man by cutting his throat with a wire coiled in his wristwatch. Cassius calls his Soviet contact, who chuckles about the press giving him the name Cassius and the men he trained “Cassius 7.” The contact gets menacing, noting that Cassius hid something from them, which has made them unhappy. Cassius knows exactly what he means. He races to a chateau in the country and finds his wife and child dead. He takes a photo of them and marches straight to the American embassy, where he meets with Agent TOM HIGHLAND of the CIA — speaking perfect American English and introducing himself as a CIA analyst who has come up with ideas on tracking the Cassius 7 assassins. “Six months ago,” on the Mexico-U.S. border, coyotes usher a group into the U.S. One of them, a Russian named BOZLOVSKI, kills the coyotes as soon as they’re past the border, then gets into a U.S. Border Patrol truck. Inside are two dead Border Patrol agents and a group of comrades.

On Meet the Press, senators discuss the looming threat of a Russian attack, suggesting that they’re using the U.S.’s preoccupation with the Middle East to their advantage. “Today,” PAUL SHEPHERDSON — once known as Cassius — watches a Little League game in suburban Washington, D.C. A fellow spectator is surprised to learn he has no children on the team — he just lives nearby. Meanwhile, two FBI agents monitor a meeting between a Congressman and a Russian. They’re surprised that the Congressman was planning to take a payoff, but it’s a moot point because the Congressman backs out of the deal. Before the agents can sweep in to arrest the Russian, a shadowy figure steps out of the alley and kills the Russian with a thin wire. The two agents are surprised when Highland — now the director of the CIA — shows up and takes over the case. They question his jurisdiction but are quickly convinced of his authority. Paul walks home and enters his modest home. Highland is waiting inside, startling Paul. Highland tells him they have a murder that looks like Cassius’s M.O. Paul isn’t convinced, but Highland takes him to CIA headquarters to look at the investigation. Paul is surprised to see the CIA and FBI working jointly on the case. Highland introduces Paul to AGENT GEARY, and FBI profiler who idolizes Paul. He wrote a master’s thesis on Cassius, which Paul quickly reveals he read, leading quickly to some mutual respect. Despite that, Geary cannot convince Paul that Cassius is the killer. Paul is ready to go home when Highland tells him they have Brutus, one of the Cassius 7, locked up in prison. This surprises Paul, who leaves nevertheless.

When Paul gets home, he’s aware that the CIA is watching him. He picks up his phone and demands to speak with Highland. After a moment, the dialtone clicks off and Highland gets on the line, urging Paul to finish what he started. Paul insists it’s not Cassius, so Highland tells him to prove it. Paul is teamed up with Geary, who rambles on about Cassius and his thesis, irritating Paul. Geary asks why they wouldn’t tell Paul about Brutus. Paul says they knew he would have killed him. They arrive at a federal penitentiary to interrogate Brutus, a vicious Russian assassin. Paul clings to the shadows while Geary takes the lead, offering a radio in exchange for information about Cassius. Brutus doesn’t tell him much other than the story of Cassius training them — putting 10 men in a room and assigning each to kill another. The six who survived became Cassius’s team. Brutus says, after training, he never saw Cassius again. Geary wonders what happens to him, but before he can say, Paul orders Geary to give him the radio, and they leave. On the way out, Geary asks why. Paul calls Brutus a liar and says they’ll get more information tomorrow — when they threaten to take his radio away. Meanwhile, Brutus pops the batteries out of the radio and swallows them. Hours later, he’s rushed to the hospital, from which he quickly escapes. Paul confronts Brutus in the parking lot, accusing him of killing his family. Brutus denies it, but Paul kills him with his watch wire.

Paul drives to a residential street. He tries to sneak into a house when Geary calls — just before stepping into the backyard of the house Paul is breaking into. Keeping to the shadows, Paul lets the call go to VoiceMail and listens as Geary leaves the message. The next morning, Geary pores over Cassius-related files when he’s called in to Brutus’s murder scene. Playing a hunch that Cassius watches the investigators at work to see who he’s up against, Geary demands that the police photograph every gawker looking at the crime scene. Meanwhile, from a secret perch, Paul watches Geary intently. Eventually, he reveals himself and asks Geary to brief him. Geary insists it’s Cassius, but Paul disagrees. They spot a Russian in the crowd and give chase. The Russian gets the drop on Paul and threatens to cut his throat. Paul tells Geary to shoot, but Geary doesn’t. The Russian gets away. Geary brings Paul home to meet his wife, NATALIE, and his children, LUCY (5) and NICHOLAS (infant). As usual, Geary goes on and on about Cassius. When he says he feels a connection with and some respect for Cassius, Paul is disgusted. He calls Cassius a vicious monster. When Geary excuses himself to use the bathroom, Paul warns Natalie that Geary is probably in danger now that he’s investigating Cassius. Natalie begs Paul to protect him. After dinner, Paul and Geary shoot the breeze on the front stoop. Geary subtly accuses Paul of being Cassius. Paul tells him to call the Little League stadium and ask around — that’s where he was when the Congressman was killed.

Paul visits Natalie at the bookstore where she works. He orders her to get Geary off the Cassius case, warning her again that he’ll die. Geary brings his friend, OLIVER, in on the Cassius case, asking him to try to find a meaningful connection that might show Paul is actually Cassius. Paul stalks Geary through Washington, only revealing himself after Geary finally gets a call from the Little League manager saying he knows Paul and he was there the night of the Congressman’s murder. Paul tells Geary to drop the investigation, but Geary explains he just got word of Paul’s innocence and apologizes. Paul won’t let it go, continuing to warn of the danger and to think of his family. Geary refuses to give up. Highland leads Paul and Geary to a situation room, where their border control analyst shows them video of Bozlovski entering the country. Bozlovski conveniently fits the profile of Cassius, and it fits to Geary and the others that bodies would start dropping not long after he entered the U.S. — tying up loose ends. Geary calls Oliver and tells him to drop the Paul angle and look into Bozlovski.

Paul takes Geary to a contact who deals exclusively in Russian goods, and therefore knows all the Russian activities going on in the area. This man leads them to AMBER, a whore living in a nearby trailer park. When they get inside, she starts shooting at them. Paul throws Geary out of the way of the shots, saving his life. Paul dives on Amber and gets the gun away from her. Paul drags her to the nearby river and threatens to kill her and dump the body if she doesn’t tell him where Bozlovski is. Geary urges Paul to cool down. He talks more reasonably with Amber, who softens and leads them to her brother, LEO. Leo agrees to take them to Bozlovski, who works out of a cannery in an industrial park. Paul instructs Geary, who has no field experience, to wait in the car. Geary insists on following, so Geary puts him on the door and tells him to shoot at anyone who tries to leave. Leo leads Paul into an office, where Bozlovski is waiting. The ensuing shootout results in a small fire that quickly grows. Before Paul can kill Bozlovski, Leo holds his gun on Paul — it was a trap all along. Paul accuses Bozlovski of killing the Congressman, which makes him laugh. Paul says it couldn’t have been Cassius, because Paul didn’t do it. Bozlovski is stunned, but before he can even register it, Paul disarms both Bozlovski and Leo and kills Leo with his watch wire. Paul pursues Bozlovski, but he’s too fast. Geary, who heard the gunshots, comes upon Leo’s body, but he’s not blocking the door. Bozlovski gets away. When Paul explains what happened, Geary thinks it can’t be a coincidence that Cassius’s M.O. shows up, once again, when Paul happens to be there. In kind, Paul accuses Geary of involvement in the Congressman killing, because who would know the M.O. better than a Cassius expert?

Geary returns to FBI headquarters. Oliver has set up a “null hypothesis” to assess the most likely Cassius suspect. Using the crime photos, Oliver has found an enormous probability that Paul is Cassius, because he’s in nearly every Cassius-related crime photo, dating back to his original murders. Geary is stunned. Paul tails Geary to a hospital, where he sees Geary conspicuously toss a newspaper into the trash. Paul picks up the newspaper and sees a code on the crossword section. Now Paul is stunned. Geary finds a photo stuck in his windshield — of Paul and his family in France. Geary returns to his office and finds a folder marked as a copycat. In fact, it’s the murder of Paul’s wife and son. In the background of the crime scene photos, he sees Bozlovski. Geary’s figured it out: Paul went after the other Cassius 7 members to get revenge, but it was Bozlovski all along. Geary is contacted by a Russian — Paul’s contact who sells Russian goods — about the photo. The Russian gives Geary a travel itinerary for Bozlovski. Paul brings Geary in on the arrest of Bozlovski, who intends to leave the country.

Knowing Paul is going to try to kill Bozlovski before they can arrest him, Geary chases them across the tarmac in a mobile lounge. After a scuffle with Paul in his own mobile lounge, Bozlovski kicks through the windshield and runs away on foot. Geary is ready to arrest Paul when Paul presents the crossword code and accuses Geary of being a double, tasked with bringing Cassius out in the open so the Russians could finally take him out and allow their other agents to enter the U.S. without fear of revenge killings. Geary admits it’s true and that he’s been assigned to return to Moscow as soon as he gets Cassius. Paul convinces Geary to do what’s right for his family, so they agree to go after Bozlovski together and pin the Cassius killings on him. Bozlovski ends up killing Paul before Geary can kill Bozlovski. Geary lies to Highland, painting Paul as a hero killed in the line of duty. Geary returns home, considers abandoning his family to return to Moscow, but instead decides to go back inside to his wife and children.

Comments:

The Double aims to pay homage to Cold War spy tradecraft. Instead of the loving homage it could have been, the writers use every cliché in the book to craft a story that lacks surprises and suspense. As written, it merits a pass.

The story tips its hand way too early. Nearly everything in the script that’s supposed to surprise the audience (as indicated by frequent use of underlining to indicate shocking reveals late in the script) is telegraphed in the first act. Obviously, there’s no question that Paul is Cassius. The opening sequence shows this very clearly. It doesn’t make much sense that the writers continue to attempt to twist the possibilities around in the second and third act. Similarly, from the moment Geary’s Cassius obsession is introduced, it’s obvious that he’ll be responsible for the murder of the Congressman. Why? Because that happens in every twisty thriller where the expert profiler knows too much about one particular killer.

The second act tries to build a tense cat-and-mouse game around whether or not Geary will catch Paul or Paul will murder Geary. It’s not quite as tense as the writers think it is, however, as a consequence of the predictability. It simply goes in circles: Paul warns Geary not to investigate while secretly spying on him; Geary continues to investigate and is easily but briefly bamboozled into thinking Paul is innocent. Worse than that, the moment that convinces Geary of Paul’s guilt — a bunch of crime scene photos in which a criminal investigator is on the scene — is based on laughably specious reasoning. This leads to an incredibly unsatisfying third act, in which the audience is treated to reveal after reveal of information even the dullest audience member would have guessed in the first ten minutes.

These reveals shouldn’t surprise Paul or Geary, either, which is more than half the problem. Neither character seems as intelligent or as ruthless as they’re ultimately supposed to be. At least the writers give Paul some weak motivation for not immediately killing Geary: Geary has a family, and Paul doesn’t want to take away their father/husband. The writers attempt to draw a parallel between Paul and Geary and their family lives. This would be a much stronger parallel if not for the fact that so little is revealed about Paul’s feelings about what happened to his family. As for his Cassius M.O. — is there a more eye-rollingly familiar Cold War weapon than the wristwatch that secretly has a strand of razor-sharp piano wire coiled inside? This is just one of many clichés the writers fall back on instead of finding something a little more clever or interesting to make the story seem a little bit fresh.

As a result of the “twist” that Geary was actually trained by the Russians to identify and kill Cassius, his character doesn’t hold up very well under scrutiny. His “Russian assassin” persona doesn’t quite jell with how he behaves throughout the script — as a remarkably inept FBI profiler. He relies on huge leaps in logic and very thin evidence to rule out Paul as Cassius, despite intuition and much stronger evidence suggesting that he is. He relies on a similarly huge leap in logic in finally deciding, once and for all, that Paul is Cassius. Aside from his allegedly brilliant profiling and analytical skills, the writers don’t give Geary much depth. This causes the sloppy writing of his investigation to make him seem much stupider than he’s supposed to be, to the detriment of the character.

The writers make no effort to develop the supporting characters. They exist for no other reason than to give the characters information.

The Double’s relentless mediocrity will make it difficult for any amount of technical or artistic prowess to turn it into something worthwhile. Its reliance on clichés, dull action sequences, and uninspired plot all add up to a big, tedious dud.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 5, 2010 7:18 PM