Two Thrillers from VVS Films
13 (December 10/11)
Based on 2005's 13 Tzameti, 13 follows blue-collar type Vincent Ferro (Sam Riley) as he assumes a dead man's identity and enters a deadly yet lucrative competition inspired by Russian roulette - with the film, for the most part, detailing Vincent's efforts at outlasting his various opponents (including Ray Winstone's Ronald and Mickey Rourke's Jefferson). There's little doubt that 13 gets off to a decidedly underwhelming start, as filmmaker Géla Babluani, working from a script cowritten with Greg Pruss, has infused the early part of the proceedings with a clunky and oddly confusing sensibility that proves disastrous - with the hopelessly uninvolving atmosphere hindering the viewer's efforts at connecting to (or caring about) the central character's plight. It's only as Vincent arrives at the mysterious compound that the film begins to improve (albeit slightly), as Babluani does a superb job of injecting the Russian roulette scenes with a palpably tense and captivating feel - with the engrossing nature of such sequences heightened by Michael Shannon's typically electrifying work as the organization's amped-up master of ceremonies. It's in the remainder of the proceedings that 13 loses its tenuous grip on the viewer, with the increasingly repetitive structure ensuring that the movie fares rather poorly in its quieter interludes (and it certainly doesn't help that Riley delivers a strong yet hopelessly uninvolving performance). The anticlimactic final half hour, which is capped off with an oddly (and needless) downbeat finish, cements the film's place as a curiously half-baked piece of work, with the far-from-electrifying atmosphere especially disappointing given the caliber of actors within the supporting cast.
The Double follows retired CIA operative Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) as he's reluctantly drawn back into the fray after a presumed-dead nemesis resurfaces, with the film subsequently detailing Paul's ongoing efforts at tracking down and arresting said nemesis. (Topher Grace costars as Ben Geary, an enthusiastic rookie who is assigned to the case alongside Paul.) First-time filmmaker Michael Brandt has infused The Double with the feel of a fairly typical thriller, as the storyline, in its early stages, unfolds in as familiar a manner as one could possibly envision - with the conventional atmosphere generally alleviated by Brandt's strong directorial choices and the uniformly compelling performances (Gere, in particular, is quite good here). And while an unexpected twist at around the half-hour mark effectively injects the proceedings with a much-needed jolt of energy, The Double is simply never able to become the taunt, engrossing piece of work that Brandt has surely intended - which is disappointing, certainly, given the inherently compelling nature of the movie's subject matter. The inclusion of a few admittedly engaging stand-alone sequences - eg Paul roughly interrogates a sleazy hooker (Stana Katic's Amber) - ensures that total boredom never quite sets in, though the ineffectiveness of the final half hour ultimately ensures that The Double ends on a disappointingly anticlimactic note. (This is to say nothing of the decidedly muddled nature of the film's climactic revelations, which are more confusing and head-scratching than anything else.)