If you don’t have windows, there’s no reason to buy fancy curtains.
That’s the issue that plagues Gemini Man, the latest from auteur Ang Lee. It’s a technically accomplished film (except for the occasional moments in which it isn’t). Only a director as respected as Lee could concoct such a mess — it takes greatness to display such fractured filmmaking.
Lee’s setup is easy enough to explain. Will Smith, all at once everything you love him for and everything that makes you groan (think dad-jokes), plays Henry Brogan, some sort of government assassin who's hanging up his sniper rifle after a hit doesn’t go according to plan. But due to some standard-issue assassin intrigue, Brogan is forced to go on the run, rather randomly, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead — who is someone the government hired to track him.
Then, 30 or 40 minutes into the movie, a younger version of Brogan — later revealed to be a good-old-fashioned clone — is sent to tie up loose ends, with older Smith the next one to be hit (Looper much?). The film rarely gets more complicated than that, which in and of itself really isn't a problem. Sometimes, the simplest plots produce the most fascinating movies.
But that’s not the case here. The film drags on in ’90s-Jerry Bruckheimer-action-movie fashion (Bruckheimer is a producer here), with dialogue so poorly written you’d think it was concocted by a random-action-movie-quote generator (and not a very well-programmed one). The action is too minimal to make up for it, and most of the film feels like empty static.
It’s no surprise Gemini Man is reported to have been in development since 1997. The script has been chopped and screwed and rewritten for more than two decades, and this feels like something Jean-Claude Van Damme would’ve done in between projects just to help pay for that extra vacation house. It’s outrageously bad at times.
Except for occasionally, when it isn’t. In some fleeting moments, Lee reminds us why he’s a two-time Academy Award winner. And really, it’s an inherently interesting premise — being hunted down by a different version of yourself — that the film doesn't grant enough consideration to. When it finally clicks, dramatically, it can be thrilling, if only for Smith unleashing his towering movie-star presence. But those moments come just about as often as the stretches of Smith & Co. openly talking about the plot connectivity, as though if they don’t, the movie will just stop.
Lee has followed in director Peter Jackson’s footsteps, utilizing high-frame-rate presentation. Lee went with a 120-frames-per-second rate, which makes the image far clearer, and is a huge departure from the cinematic standard of 24fps. Coupling that with 3D — which Lee did so well with his Life of Pi adaptation — is becoming his latter-career calling card.
Occasionally, the director stages shots that don’t make dimensional sense and lingers far too long on cinematographer Dion Beebe’s close-ups.
Experimental technology is fine in a movie like this — a movie that never really had much of a chance from the start, thanks to its ramshackle script. But you just can’t take much away from the experience because of the writing.
This film feels both obligatory and unnecessary. Lee’s obviously a great filmmaker, but like his last film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Gemini Man shows him to be too focused on presentation and not enough on story.
Lee’s too talented to make a film this mediocre, but he’s also too talented to stay in this space for long.
This story first ran in our sister publication the Nashville Scene.