The Double (2013) / Comedy-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 93 min.

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowka, Wallace Shawn, Cathy Moriarty, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, James Fox
Small role: Chris O'Dowd, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenplay: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine (based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky)

Review published May 3, 2014

Directed by "The IT Crowd"'s Richard Ayoade, who impressed critics with his previous effort, Submarine, this darkly quirky alienation flick is sure to go down as a cult favorite. The Double, which is loosely based on a novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoevsky, borrows a page from the retro-tech look and darkly comic tone of Terry Gilliam's seminal Brazil, with a dash of the oppressive paranoia of 1984, the visual bleakness of After Hours, and the claustrophobic vibe of "Max Headroom" thrown in. Audiences will need an adjustment period to get used to the decidedly dark and surreal look of the film, in a world that always seems to be set at night, a la Dark City, but if it can be done, a thematically rich black comedy is revealed, rife with a plethora of allusions that will keep the literati titllated.

The gist of The Double is that a meek office worker named Simon James (Eisenberg, Rio 2) finds his own life difficult enough to make his own.  It gets even worse when his doppelganger, James Simon (also Eisenberg), emerges into his life and is immediately able to obtain the kinds of success that Simon can only dream about -- immediately respected at work, the eye of all the ladies, and assertive in a way that he'll take what he wants, when he's not just given it outright. Real problems arise when James Simon begins to muck around with Simon James's attempt to woo the heart of his crush, a coworker named Hannah (Wasikowska, Stoker), who also lives near him.

Eisenberg delivers well in a dual role, as he plays the awkward, nerdy guy he has always played, but also the confident, fast-talking guy he would also sell in such films as The Social Network and Now You See Me. Simon James is the epitome of a man who has failed to make a dent, to the point where people who know him can hardly pay enough attention to him to stay awake, and those that don't can't even remember meeting him. He's like the invisible man, and even his own ailing mother can't do much for him except to point out what a disappointment he is. Meanwhile, James Simon is the "It Guy", the BMOC as it were, who is afforded every break, and to whom everyone is magically drawn to due to his ceaseless charisma and drive. Though the two Eisenbergs look and dress alike, it's to the actor's great credit that we immediately know which of the men we're looking at, just from the look in the eyes.

The art-house crowd will no doubt take to The Double the most, particularly for its weird tone and offbeat cinematography, along with its Kafka-esque set design and sickly color choices (the latter look may make or break the film for some viewers). It's a film that is as much of a compendium of allusions to other great works in film as it is to literature, so while those unaware of those references may just admire or reject The Double for its weirdness, those who find familiarity in the material will appreciate the amount of thought that goes into the design of this twisted storyline. Even if the thrust of the story might make a better short film than a full-length feature, there's more than enough thematic material to wrestle with, and perhaps even give a second look to catch all of the prolific foreshadowing on a repeat visit. A well-crafted tale with admittedly limited appeal.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo