by Ken Carrell
The Double is a sub-par attempt at reviving a mid-19th century work from Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It’s long, slow, and while it has some decent performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowski, it’s far from par for the course for a neo-noir. Where it had the potential to push the genre, it falters and stumbles awkwardly to an anti-climactic ending that leaves too many unanswered questions
The closest movie that I can think of that reminds me of The Double is the old neo-noir classic Dark City. It’s dark, it’s dreary, and it evokes a deep-seated feeling of depression in the viewer. The plot is nothing like Dark City, but the aesthetic is. Cinematographer Erik Wilson does a fantastic job of creating a drab, seemingly colorless world that matches the characters’ lives so well. Everything feels crammed and constricted, even the wide-open outdoor areas. The viewer feels pressed up against the characters and almost feels like they’re right there in the scene, sitting in the corner and watching the events unfold in front of them.
The Double centers on Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg). In the first minute and a half of the movie, a faceless stranger on a train demands Simon move as “he’s in his seat.” The rest of the car is completely empty. Despite this, Simon complies. In just these few moments, we can see exactly what kind of a character Simon is; meek, spineless, and an overall pushover. For fifteen minutes, we see just how mercilessly his world treats him. He’s denied access to work (despite being reminded more than once that he’s been there for seven years) by a rude security guard, his boss ignores his work ethic, and he doesn’t even have the courage to approach Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who he admires from afar. His whole world is upended when his doppelganger James Simon (also portrayed by Eisenberg) is hired by his company and begins usurping all of the attention Simon deserves. James is the exact opposite of Simon; charismatic, interesting, outgoing. He’s exactly the type to chat up two ladies at a bar (which he does) and headbutt a threatening biker-type (which he does). At first, James appears to be an ally but quickly reveals himself to be Simon’s biggest enemy as he steals the girl, takes credit for all of Simon’s work, and pushes him even further into the background.
Jesse Eisenberg, nominated for his role in The Social Network, plays this dual role well. His natural persona seems to emit the kind of character Simon is. Unfortunately, when it comes time to portray James, he just can’t seem to shake the meek demeanor of his opposite. Instead of watching two distinct characters, we end up watching the same guy kinda sorta changing how he acts to kinda sorta make it clear that, hey, he’s a different guy on the other half of the screen.
Mia Wasikowski plays her role well. She seems to be the perfect match for Simon but, ever the archetype for a woman, characteristically falls for the charismatic James instead. Wasikowski’s portrayal is believable but with its faults. In some scenes, she seems to really embody the character, where in others it seems like she’s bored and ready for the director to yell “cut.”
The movie overall is particularly sub-par. Where it does well in some areas, it falters in others. For one, it’s painfully slow. It takes almost a third of the movie before anything interesting happens. There are a couple of spikes in the action where plot gets a boost, but these moments are so far between that most viewers will probably get disinterested before they reach the next one. Overall, The Double seems like a nice idea that was poorly executed.
Grade – C-