Ever since appearing on The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade has made a big impression on audiences everywhere and not just in the UK. Though his transition to Hollywood hasn’t been as smooth as say Chris O’Dowd, especially with the lackluster performance of The Watch in 2012, he was met with great acclaim from critics and audiences for his directorial debut Submarine in 2010, which he also wrote. So naturally the success of that film would lead Richard Ayoade to pursue any projects that could further his directing career. This leads us to his latest feature The Double.
The Double is about a man named Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg). Simon is lonely, he’s awkward, he has no confidence and nobody seems to really notice him. So, he’s pretty much Jesse Eisenberg. Simon works a clerk of some kind within a government agency of some kind. One day, Simon’s life gets turned upside-down when a new employee named James Simon shows up. They look exactly the same. James is Simon’s opposite; he is assertive, he’s quick-witted, he’s confident and he has a way with women that Simon wishes he had. After they meet, Simon’s initial worries come to fruition as James has practically taken over Simon’s life.
The first thing anyone would get out of this film is the great starring performance from Jesse Eisenberg. When we start the film out, we initially see him as the typical Jesse Eisenberg character, but once James shows up, that’s when we see him really take off. This is easily one of his best performances. Unfortunately, though the rest is the cast is good, they don’t really have much to do. Mia Wasikowska does a fine job playing Hannah, the woman that Simon has feelings for, but her role is mostly passive and her character comes off as underdeveloped. Simon’s boss, Mr. Papadopoulos, is played Wallace Shawn and he’s always a joy to watch. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Phyllis Somerville, and several others, but these are very small roles.
The direction by Richard Ayoade is sharp and confident, and the script by him and Avi Korine is solid. Although, the first half hour was oddly paced and it doesn’t quite pick up until James show up. The film does have some outstanding production design by David Crank; though I do wish the world was a bit more fleshed out, since the strangely ambiguous time period threw me off a bit. We don’t see much a part from Simon’s home and workplace. Either way, the sets were wonderfully shot by cinematographer Erik Wilson, and the excellent lighting complimented the film, giving this noir-ish look that uses shadows to great effect. The music by Andrew Hewitt is also very well done. It’s mostly in these technical aspects where the film excels the most.
My only real problem with the film is that it does feel a bit derivative. The obvious comparison that people will make, at least on purely aesthetical terms, is Terry Gilliam. The government agency in the film feels right out of Brazil, with even one particular scene that plays out the satirical bureaucracy that Brazil dealt with. There are several other moments in the film that were direct homages to other films and filmmakers ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to David Lynch. It doesn’t come across poorly by any means, but the lack of anything truly fresh and unique made the film feel like an exercise in style over substance, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, but it certainly doesn’t take away the things that the film does great with.
The Double may be small in scale, but it’s nonetheless an ambitious effort on Richard Ayoade’s part. It’s an enjoyable and interesting blend of dark comedy and mind-bending thriller. It’s captured with a lush and wonderfully executed style that is pulled together with a fantastic lead performance from Jesse Eisenberg. Though certain elements may feel very familiar and very been-there-done-that, it’s handled exceptionally by Richard Ayoade’s direction, and he solidifies himself with this film as a talent that has much more to offer.
Side Note: After doing some research it seems that the film is based on a novella of the same name, written by Russian writer and philosopher, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I have not read the book, so I can’t speak towards how the film is as an adaptation, but if I were to assume, I’d say it’s a loose one at best, especially considering the book was published in the mid-1800s. Another interesting thing, The Double is the second film released this year that involves a man finding a doppelgänger. The other one was Denis Villeneuve’s surreal thriller Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s recommended for those interested, but it’s not nearly as accessible as The Double. Oddly enough, Enemy itself was based on a novel by Portuguese author, José Saramago, called The Double.