Richard Ayoade undermines some solid performances with airless retro-stylings
After rising to fame through The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade made an accomplished directorial debut with coming-of-age saga Submarine. Taking on the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky for his next project suggests a welcome ambition, but despite a good central performance (or two), The Double doesn’t quite live up to its intriguing premise.
The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a mild-mannered programmer who is somewhat put-upon by friends and colleagues in his dingy workspace; his boss (Wallace Shawn) can barely remember who Simon is, and even co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) describes his furtive manner as creepy. Simon’s world gradually gets dismantled with the arrival of James Simon (also Eisenberg), who looks identical but has a far more forward and developed manner. As James Simon begins to rule the roost over Simon James, both Hannah and the office workers seem to be falling for the charms of Simon’s doppelganger.
Ayoade pulls together an accomplished supporting cast, including Sally Hawkins and Chris O’Dowd, and although a lot of thought has gone into the dystopian world Simon inhabits, the retro-stylings are airless and jar with the reality of Simon’s plight. That said, Eisenberg manages the differentiation of the two characters well, and when the inevitable interchanging of the two men starts, he keeps his performance subtle enough to keep audiences guessing.
The Double is a clever film, but despite its downtrodden hero, not a particularly empathetic experience. Unlike Submarine, which kept a tight grip on the protagonist’s deeply felt angst, The Double is far too stuffed with retro-props, expressionist lighting and Japanese pop music to make Simon’s story resonate. Absurdity is central to the conceit, but Ayoade makes a crucial mistake in locating it so firmly in the production design.
Limited release from Fri 4 Apr.