When I was in my twenties while on a trip to Jamaica I met an artist who lived in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. He connected me for a couple of summers to a somewhat free flowing party crowd filled with interesting people I never would have met otherwise. Some were artists. One woman claimed to be Louisa May Alcott’s granddaughter. Her last name was Alcott. I asked. She seemed surprised that I knew the name. Or maybe she was just messing with me. But strange things like that happened, and I was never sure whom I could entirely trust.
My friends and I were invited to lots of parties in the area. Other events, well, we just showed up. But we were frequent enough participants to begin recognizing people and to be recognized by others. Tim Kazurinsky, a Chicago comedian from the early days of Saturday Night Live was at one event. That was fun. And then there was the evening when a small crowd of people stood across a backyard patio, looking at me, giggling and pointing. Eventually they sent an ambassador over who began to question me:
“Oh my God, what are you doing here?”
I was completely taken aback. Stunned silent, actually.
“No, seriously, who do you know here? Are you following us?”
It wasn’t until I began to protest my innocence that the inquisitor took a shocked step back, said “Oh, that’s weird, you look just like…” and here I can’t even begin to fill in the name. It doesn’t matter. I had a doppelganger. Someone who looked so much like me I could have switched places. Only our voices set us apart.
So, the premise of Gemini Man was strangely relatable for me. Will Smith plays Henry Brogan, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) sniper with seemingly super human abilities when it comes to shooting under impossible conditions. The movie begins with Brogan on his belly awaiting the arrival of a bullet train in a foreign locale. He is on a hill 2 kilometers away and the train is moving at 238 km per hour. His target is sitting in a window seat, and he becomes disillusioned when he misses the shot due to a last minute distraction. He hits the target in the neck instead of the head.
Retirement is Henry’s choice as a result of this disappointing performance, along with the development, as in many older soldiers, of a conscience. Never mind he already has 72 high profile kills to his credit. But you don’t leave DIA unless they want you to, and thus begins a tale of espionage, betrayal and ultimately, Brogan coming face to face with a younger clone of himself, sent to kill him.
The clone, a marvel of computer generated imagery, is Smith at age 25. The older Smith, age 51, is beginning to slow, to succumb to his doubts and fears. “Junior” as the clone is known has been trained since birth as a weapon, with all of the older Smith’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.
As the story develops, we are introduced to Dani, a covert DCI agent assigned to monitor Brogan. Played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, known most recently as Laurel Healy from the TV series Braindead, and Nikki Swango on the 2017 Fargo series, her cover is blown and she becomes a target along with Brogan.
We meet Clay Verris (Clive Owen), head of Gemini Global Defenses, a mercenary company of highly trained special operations soldiers, and Junior’s adopted father. Junior must come to terms with the truth of his identity, any remaining hope of becoming a normal member of society and the need to break away from the madness that has gripped Verris. There are rumors within the agency that there are plans that extend far beyond simple cloning to the creation of an army of soulless super soldiers, devoid of pain and fear.
“We can spare parents the grief of seeing their child come home in a box,” is Clay’s moral imperative for his utterly immoral God-play.
The University of Illinois’ own Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) directed Gemini Man. It was shot at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second, which gives it an intensity and hyper reality that compliments the incredible de-ageing of Will Smith. That special effect is rarely disruptive, and then only slightly so. I wondered if I would have questioned the animated appearance of young Smith at all had I not known to watch for it. That computers are clearly at the point at which actors are almost optional brings us closer to the day when talent is merely licensed and voiced-over once sufficient star power has been established. Or will completely artificial personages have stars of their own on the Hollywood walk of fame?
Gemini Man is exciting, as believable as any modern super spy thriller, well scripted, nicely acted (Smith versus Smith side by side had to be a challenge) and filled with numerous switchbacks, chase scenes and exotic locations.
Gemini Man (2019) runs 1 hour 57 minutes and is rated PG-13.
Should I see this movie?