‘The Double’ Review
Whoever said nightmares couldn't also be funny?
Richard Ayoade's 'The Double' is a clever mash-up of Eastern European despair and paranoia against stylized indies of the late 1980s. Its roots are Dostoyevsky's 1846 novella of the same name, but its look and tempo draw heavily from Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil' and Martin Scorsese's 'After Hours.' While it does take a little while to truly get rolling, those who delight in movies where every single shot is art directed within an inch of its life will luxuriate in its craftiness.
We open on an empty train. It could be today, it could be 150 years ago. Jesse Eisenberg, swimming in his beige suit, meekly gets up when a man hovers over him and says, "you are in my place." He arrives at his depressing, cement gray place of work and, as has been the case for seven years, has to argue with the guard for admittance. (He isn't in the system.) The freight elevators and their analogue buttons eventually get him to his wooden work station, where he toils at some sort of paleolithic computer device at a "data" company.
The first ray of light is actually the blue glow of a copier machine, which illuminates the angelic Mia Wasikowska, the only other person at the company roughly his age. Eisenberg is smitten (Ayoade's previous film, 'Submarine,' is all about the moony love of a quiet boy) and it's clear he's projected all of his hopes and dreams into winning her favor.
As luck would have it, they live opposite one another in bare, socialist block apartments. Through a telescope he watches her make tiny drawings using blood from her pricked fingertips. She throws them in the garbage chute, but he collects them, pastes them back together and puts them in a book. Yeah, it's all a little emo, but kept in check with abundant absurdist humor and great cinematography.
One day a new young kid enters the office. It is Eisenberg's exact double down to the suit, only this one is jovial and self-assured. Office manager Wallace Shawn takes an instant liking to him, promising that he's on a fast track to "meet the Colonel."
What's weird is that it isn't just Eisenberg who can see that the new guy is his twin. When it is pointed out, others say, "oh, yeah," but think nothing of it and move on. You think the movie is going to pit them against one another -- and, eventually, this happens -- but it doesn't take a predictable route. At first, the two befriend one another. Old Eisenberg helps New Eisenberg with the tedium of their bureaucratic work, and New Eisenberg takes on a Cyrano de Bergerac role in helping him woo Wasikowska.
A number of amusing set pieces build up the tension, leading to a quite perfect ending. There are a lot of cinematic touchstones in 'The Double,' but the final result - funnily enough for a movie about a copycat - is quite original. Agreeably, a number of terrific character actors pop-in for a quick visit. (Note to all directors: Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins are always welcome.) What sells the world of this film aren't just the fine-tuned sets, it's that the characters are 100-percent rooted in the environment, even if we're still breathlessly trying to figure everything out. 'The Double' is always one step ahead of its audience, but if you follow its lead and keep up, what awaits at the finish is quite worth it.
Watch 'The Double' Trailer
'The Double' premiered at TIFF 2013.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.