"The Double" Review: Craig's First Take

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A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite - confident, charismatic and seductive with women.
4.5

Here’s a comedy for those who feel like they’re slowly dying inside. Wait, where are you going? Ok, “The Double” sounds like a hard sell but it’s also the work of a true talent. That would be writer/director Richard Ayoade, a British triple threat (comedian, director, actor) best known for spoofing cheesy 80’s sci-fi TV shows, which is about the only thing on TV in this very bleak world he’s created in “The Double”, which is adapted from a Dostoevsky short story.

Part of his mastery is that the film feels both realistic yet totally exaggerated, a world poking fun at the daily grind of office drones. Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) may have one of the most boring jobs on the planet, so boring in fact that it’s come to define him. Nobody notices him and his manager (a terrific Wallace Shawn) is oblivious to the fact that he’s worked there for seven years or that his name is actually Simon.

Adding to his feelings of despair and complete emptiness is the set design; the train, coffee shops, cramped apartment (seriously, this makes a Studio look incredible), street where he lives, and his windowless underground office where he usually finds himself have a dim lighting that would make a morgue at night look inviting. It all seems to hang together with Simon’s depressed isolationism.

You could hardly blame him for using a telescope to look in across the street at Hannah (an excellent Mia Wasikowska), a fragile, but pretty blonde who happens to work in his office in the copy room. Simon would love to express himself verbally to her, if only he still felt like a person.

In a strange twist, James begins working at the company; strange because he is an exact replica of Simon, only authoritative, confident, and able to manipulate things to his will. Simon yearns for the same respect James gets and for a while James is more than willing to help, until just taking over sounds like the better idea. Eisenberg is perfect here in the two roles, especially with Simon’s alienation and feelings of poor self-worth. Ayoade lets the paranoia continue to seep into this thriller, but the psychology behind it keeps it identifiable.

And it’s also a painfully funny dark comedy though. Characters like a consistently disappointed mother, a lazy nursing home orderly who’s ripping Simon off, a pair of unaffected cops primarily assigned to suicide cases (there are a lot on Simon’s block), and a supporting cast that includes James Fox, Chris O’Dowd, Noah Taylor, and Cathy Moriarty all add some eccentricity. Even the way the universe seems to sometimes be against us is part of the joke.

There’s so much at play here, from the weird moroseness of everything that’s happening to the way it gets grounded in the human condition and how much the human brain can take before it breaks down. “The Double” is insanely clever and original, exactly the kind of film 2014 has been waiting for.