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New Release Review - The Double

Adaptation of the Fyodor Dostoevsky novel.

Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O'Dowd, Wallace Shawn, Cathy Moriarty, James Fox, Paddy Considine, Rade Serbedzija, Noah Taylor




Simon James (Eisenberg) leads a drab anonymous existence, working a soul crushing data processing job at which he earns no respect from either his coworkers or his employer (Shawn). His love for neighbor and fellow employee Hannah (Wasikowska) seems destined to remain unrequited as he struggles to pluck up the courage to talk to her. However, after they both witness a fellow neighbor's suicide, Simon and Hannah begin to bond. Their growing relationship is torn apart, though, when James Simon (er, Eisenberg again), an exact physical double of his reverse namesake, takes a position at their place of work. James Simon's outgoing and arrogant personality couldn't be more different from that of Simon James, and he begins to quickly win the respect that his pre-existing double never could.
Over his short but relatively prolific career, Jesse Eisenberg has found himself pigeon-holed into two distinct roles: the likeable but socially awkward nebbish (Adventureland, Rodger Dodger) and the arrogant sociopath (The Social Network, Now You See Me). In Richard Ayoade's adaptation of the famed Dostoyevsky novel, he's afforded the chance to play both roles within the same movie and he does so with ease. Perhaps a bit too much ease, as neither performance jumps out at us quite like it should. When the socially popular double appears, we don't notice the contrast in the same way as we did when Michael Cera pulled off this same stunt in 2009's Youth in Revolt. At that point we had only ever seen Cera play the shy loser, so to see him adopt a polar opposite personality was immediately striking. Here, Eisenberg is simply doing more of the same, in both roles.
In adapting a piece of fiction from the mid nineteenth century, there's always going to be a struggle to make the material seem fresh. Dostoyevsky's work is particularly problematic, as its theme has been regurgitated throughout popular culture ever since its publication and adversarial doubles have appeared in films as disparate as George Romero's The Dark Half and David Fincher's Fight Club. Ayoade's adaptation certainly doesn't cover any new ground but what makes the film feel dated most of all is its visual aesthetic, stuck somewhere between eighties Terry Gilliam and nineties Fincher. The director adds some touches of his own, like the Paddy Considine starring Doctor Who style TV show our protagonist is a fan of, but even this feels like a poor imitation of a similar subplot from Ayoade's impressive debut film, Submarine.
Starting off as a sort of sub Woody Allen comedy of self-deprecation, Ayoade's film is quite humorous, even if the gags aren't particularly fresh, but when things take a darker turn in the movie's second half, Ayoade seems less comfortable with the material, allowing the story to ultimately fade away like a reflection in the mirror of a steamed up bathroom.
6/10
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Eric Hillis

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