Review: The Double

In a bleak and distorted alternate reality, isolated and lonely office clerk Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) encounters James (Eisenberg again), the exact double of himself but with polar opposite characteristics. At first the two become friends, but as the confident and aggressive doppelganger proceeds to take over all aspects of his life a bitter antagonism builds and Simon begins to unravel.

Based on a 19th century novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Richard Ayoade’s The Double takes the plot and primary themes of the source story and melds them together with off-kilter surrealism to create a darkly comic, Kafkaesque nightmare.

Much has been said of the films influences; it’s not hard to see shades of Terry Gilliam’s seminal Brazil in the film or, indeed, hints of  Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers too, but too closely comparing Ayoade’s work with his antecedents would be to do a major disservice to what he has created here.the double scene

Meticulously crafted from top to bottom, the sparse script (co-written by the director and Avi Korine) makes for a deliberately claustrophobic, confined film. Most of the scenes take place in only one or two scant but well designed sets, the small cast drift from event to event like puppets; actions and sounds repeated over and over again in a dance of despair and inevitability.

It’s a stark, bold vision – both artistically and tonally; Ayoade makes no concessions for the popular audience. The beautifully lit photography by Erik Wilson works alongside the angular, dense sound design ramping up the tension, while a delightfully noirish score by Andrew Hewitt cuts throughout like nails to a chalkboard.

The limited cast each do fine work with tricky roles, Eisenberg particularly shining in his duel capacity as protagonist and antagonist. While in the past he has come across as a bit too glib or self knowing, Ayoade uses these traits as advantages, drawing out a performance that fully exploits the actor’s quirks. Mia Wasikowska too is wonderful as the sweetly melancholic Hannah, co-worker and love interest caught between Eisenberg’s polar opposites.

Likewise, Ayoade has wisely filled out his remaining cast with fine comic actors, each providing otherwise thinly drawn characters with a degree of depth and humour. Cameos from Chris Morris and Paddy Considine shine in particular as a hilarious highlights. Indeed, dark as it is, The Double is a very funny film, full of surreal asides and well judged physical humour.

The film is not without a few issues, however. The momentum so meticulously established in the first half wanes in a final act that comes across as  rushed, muddling a finale that ends up landing with more of a timid thud than the expected explosion. So too, a sub-plot involving Simon’s mother doesn’t quite hit home, offering a few funny moments at the expense of diluting the impact of the core story.

the double 2These quibbles are minor, though, given how elegant and well crafted the majority of the film is, and it’d be a hard personality indeed who could walk away from the film without something to think about. Ayoade and his cast and crew have built a strong, individual piece of cinema that stands proudly separate from anything on offer in mainstream cinema at the moment, and for that they should be congratulated.

This screening of The Double was a one-off preview at City Screen in York, featuring an interview with Richard Ayoade. City Screen frequently host similar previews of upcoming releases and live Q+A broadcasts with major talent from the film industry and I’d highly recommend checking out their website and seeing what’s on in future! Meanwhile, The Double will be showing regularly at City Screen from Friday 4th April.