The Double (2014) Review


Director Richard Ayoade’s The Double finds visual beauty in some objectively ugly places. The entire movie is bathed in harsh, obnoxious light, and a dusty, dirty film—”a patina of shit,” to quote the movie Michael Clayton—engulfs its characters, which supports the film’s themes that the working world is a suffocating, miserable place.

It’s awfully curious, then, that outside of the film’s beautifully hideous look, it’s mostly unsuccessful. The specter of more cleverly and uniquely oppressive films—like Brazil or Naked Lunch—hangs unflatteringly over Ayoade’s sophomore effort, and his (and his actors’s) inability to deliver on an emotional level renders the splendid ickiness he establishes visually feel rather cold and ultimately quite hollow.

Simon James (Eisenberg) is a pathetically passive, eternally single guy who works as some kind of number cruncher for a mysterious man called the Captain. His employers don’t value him. His sick mother, whom he visits most nights after work, is repulsed by him. And like so many others in his life, the woman he pines for—Hannah (Mia Wasikowska)—hardly even notices he’s there.

All that changes suddenly one day when a new employee—James Simon (also Eisenberg)—joins the Captain’s crew. He doesn’t do much work, but he steals credit for Simon’s brilliant ideas and gains favor with everyone around the office. He demands a lot from people, but manages to get what he wants through charm and assertiveness—neither of which is a quality Simon possesses. Worst of all, he wins Hannah’s heart with ease. Simon’s the first to admit he didn’t exactly have a strong grip on his life, but whatever kept him sane is slipping away fast.

Eisenberg is delightfully committed to his performance. He’s a fine choice for the two roles—they’re both exaggerated versions of his Mark Zuckerberg performance in The Social Network. That said, he’s missing something that would make us care about either character in any way. Even James, as despicable as he is, doesn’t muster a reaction stronger than a shoulder shrug as he sets out to steal his rival’s life. They clearly aren’t real characters, and it’s hard to imagine that Ayoade intended them to be, but nevertheless, that’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’re already dealing with a film that’s drenched in stylized unpleasantness.

Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Paddy Considine, and all the others on hand here seem to do precisely what’s expected of them. There’s no denying The Double is a directorially assured piece of work; it’s just that Ayoade’s overall vision and, in particular, his tone don’t work for me in the slightest. For satire to really sting, it needs an anchor in reality, and The Double is a bubble, floating weightlessly and waiting to pop.

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