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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Gemini Man, Review: Clone arranger

Gemini Man, Review: Clone arranger

Ang Lee directed this poor man’s James Bondage? The man who made Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger--Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi? No, this is the Ang Lee who made Hulk, which earned twice its cost. A VFX delight, Gemini Man is about a clone on a mission to kill a man who is a professional killer, and is also the man he was cloned from. The movie disappoints, with a below par screenplay, and few impressive directorial touches from the master.

A middle-aged American government hit-man named Henry Brogan, a former Marine, is commissioned to assassinate an anonymous ‘terrorist’ aboard a silver-bullet train, from a special gun that can trace a target’s co-ordinates from 2 kms away. During the mission, Henry's ‘spotter’, who is sitting in the same compartment, warns him of a young girl approaching the target, causing Henry to delay his shot until the last second, shooting the man in the neck despite aiming for his head. After 72 victims, the business of cold-blooded murder and the possibility that he could have killed the girl, instead, get him disillusioned and he tells his bosses that he is retiring.

At the docks, Henry meets the new boat rental manager Danny and reconnects with an old friend, Jack, on his boat, who reveals that an informant named Yuri told him that the man Henry killed was innocent, and that he was a scientist, not a terrorist. Demanding proof, Henry has his friend arrange a meeting with Yuri, in Budapest, Hungary. In retaliation for Henry knowing their methods of illegal assassination, his former agency plans to kill him, while Clay Varris, head of a top-secret black ops unit codenamed Gemini, wants to go after Henry, but is denied the request by the agency boss, a woman. Realising Danny, a young woman, is a fellow agent, Henry befriends her. After his home is broken into by government agents, who try to kill him, Henry calls his spotter, who is killed along with Henry's friend. Henry warns Danny about an impending attack on them, and they manage to kill the assassins sent after them, now sure that the agency wants them dead.

Not many films have taken 21 years to fruition. Gemini Man is one such dinosaur. Originally conceived in 1997, the film went through protracted incubation for nearly 20 years. Several directors, including Tony Scott, Curtis Hanson, and Joe Carnahan, were all attached at some point and numerous actors, including Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Sean Connery, were set to star. In October 2017, Ang Lee signed on to direct. Although there were several writers attached to the project at various stages, the final credits are given to David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke for screenplay and Darren Lemke for story. Benioff co-wrote the superhero flick, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and wrote the TV series, Game of Thrones. Lemke’s contributions include three Shrek films and Shazam! Ray is a staunch Democratic Party supporter and wrote speeches for several Democrat candidates contesting against Trump’s Republican hopefuls. He is known for Shattered Glass, The Hunger Games, and Captain Phillips.         

Nothing wrong with these credentials whatsoever. It was a hotchpotch of writings and rewritings that must have land on their laptops, and what they finally downloaded is what we see. Since we have no way of ascertaining how much of original writing the three put in, let us go with the premise that it is all their own handiwork. And judged as such, the narrative comes across as a half-hearted attempt at doing a James Bond, with MI6 out to get him, and a villain like Dr. No or another SPECTRE/SMERSH boss, Ernst Stavro Blofeld for one, running the show from the wings. You even have a guy called Baron, the Gemini Man version of Felix Leiter or Quarrel. No wonder Sean Connery was in the running for the title role.

Gemini Man’s badman, Varris, is involved in cloning a “new breed of soldier,” because the problem with guys like Henry is they’ll do anything you tell them when they’re young, but when they get older, they “grow a conscience” and might not obey orders. So Varris and his cronies decide they’ll clone Henry, on the quiet, but “edit out” things like ‘empathy’ and the ‘ability to feel any pain’. Thus, they’ll create sub-human, but endowed-with-super-power soldiers who can do all the fighting for the USA, without endangering any American soldiers, who will no longer come home in body bags. So, is he actually a nice guy? Maybe a bit misled, but well-intentioned? That’s the ethical question the film throws up.

It also raises several questions about plot points. Why does the secret service want Brogan dead? Did they not know that he would retire at some point? How many Brogans are there? Are they all eliminated after their worth has been tapped? Why go through such an elaborate plan to shoot the victim in a running train, when there could have been a hundred, more effective and less risky, ways, to bump him off? Why is it so difficult for the entire state machinery to kill one former operative? Can one fly in and out of other countries in private aircraft at will, without any clearances? Why does Junior do such a poor job of searching Danny? Having told Junior that he was found abandoned by his parents, why does Varris then celebrate his birthday every year, prompting Junior to ask one fateful day about this falsehood and nail Varrris? Too many unanswered questions, too many loose ends.

To their credit, having an actor and his younger clone, or rather two clones, interact for long sequences, and even involve in spectacular duels, looks like a first. And it is done with such precision that you might tend to believe that they are different actors, mere lookalikes, not motion capture or Visual Effects creations that make the protagonist, Will Smith, look half his age. Likewise, the shots of the train hurtling across and passing your face taking 90˚ turns in a trail-blazing manner are state-of-the-art stuff. The motor-cycle chase is breath-taking, but makes you wonder why so many homes in a foreign land were conveniently empty, to facilitate the chase. And the encounter in the catacombs/underground passages is semi-grand, if not really grand.

Perhaps we are being too harsh on the film. After all, why should Ian Fleming’s 007 character films monopolise the action/gadget-gizmo/West-East (the Christian NATO and the Communist and former communist countries) divide? There have been Jason Bournes, Mission Impossibles, Jack Ryans and the ilk. And why can’t a Taiwanese director, who has made all genera of film types, try his hand at a pure action thriller, with just that coating of sci-fi? Why can he not have a tracker installed in the arm of his hero surreptitiously during a routine operation? Why can he not have his heroine hide a transmitter in her mouth, to evade detection?

Sure, he can. But we expect him to outdo the Bond vehicles, beating them at their own game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. And it appears that he has at least tried. Interestingly, Gemini Man is shot in 120 frames per second, in contrast to the traditional 24 frames per second, in very HD 4K 3D. Question is…is there a single cinema in the US or India that can play this formatting equation? So, what’s the point? And what about cinematic ‘ethics’, if there exist any such codes of moral behaviour? Will virtual actors, or likenesses of actors, replace actors themselves, in the not too distant future?

One advantage that the now 51 year-old Will Carrol Smith has is that he has the kind of face that is malleable and gets by playing a genie (Aladdin), a cold-blooded sharpshooter and a fire-brand clone digitally mastered to look less than half his real age. An amazing success and renaissance story, the rapper-turned TV star-turned actor celebrated his 50th birthday by bungee jumping! In the end, however, it is a waste of his talent. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Sky High, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 10 Cloverfield Lane), stuck with the tag of ‘scream queen’ for her roles in horror and exploitation movies, gets a chance flex her muscles, and act a bit too, as Danny.

Clive Owen (lead player in films like Inside Man, Children of Men, and The International), as Varris, is menacing but poses no threat to any of the iconic villains seen in Bond or Batman movies. Similarly, Linda Emond’s character is so obviously inspired by MI6’s Chief, M, played by Judi Dench. English actor Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame) is genial in an ill-defined role.

In one scene, Henry Senior throws a grenade at Junior, who shoots is back towards Sr., almost like what is called a self-goal in football. At other places, however, the film gets too cute for its own good, and we can predict what is coming from a long way off. Not quite what is expected from a “visionary” (Paramount calls him that on the link to the You Tube trailer of the film) director like Ang Lee.

Gemini Man draws its name from the astrological sign of Gemini, which is symbolised by twins. The ‘twins’ or triplets in this film are not strictly twins, even being half and double the age of the other, but Gemini is close enough. What else could they have called it? Will Smith v/s Will Smith v/s Will Smith? Trippelganger? It’s Clonely at the Top? Or The Clone Arranger?

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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