The Double (2013)

Posted: March 27, 2014 in Comedy, Drama, English language, Thriller
Tags: , , , ,

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UK: 2013

Director: Richard Ayoade

93 minutes

Based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoevsky, director Richard Ayoade’s second feature is the tale of Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a shy, lonely office worker whose fortunes take a tailspin when a bolder double of himself turns up at the company. The action in the film has been transplanted from Dostoevsky’s Russia to a grim, self-contained environment that could be anywhere. We never actually see daylight. Simon occupies a barely-furnished flat in a nondescript estate that we only ever view at night. He travels to work on a shabby near-empty underground train and works in a dystopian office environment filled with creaky old equipment and even creakier old employees. At his company, Simon’s colleagues barely notice him, especially the security guard who makes him sign in as a visitor every morning.

Simon is secretly carrying a torch for Hanna (Mia Wasikowska), who works in the photocopying office, but he can barely utter a coherent sentence in her presence. He has also been working on a paper that shows how the company could be made efficient, but has not yet managed to bring it to the attention of “The Colonel” (James Fox), who is in overall charge. One day Simon is shocked when his doppelganger, James, arrives at the company. James is everything that Simon is not: brash, bold, and confident. People notice James. Yet, bizarrely, they do not even notice that Simon and James are identical. Only when Simon specifically asks a colleague to compare their appearances does the man concede there is a resemblance. Initially, Simon and James are friendly, Simon does some favours for James, but before long James is taking credit for Simon’s work and is moving in on Hannah.

Having not read Dostoevsky’s novella I don’t know how closely Ayoade followed the original, but I didn’t feel that the film made the most from its basic premise. The problem is that there are no real surprises along the way. Things get better for James, things get worse for Simon, and that’s about it – all of which I knew before I even saw the film. There are no subplots to add interest. Other characters only exist so as to highlight the injustices that are being heaped upon Simon. There is a sense that from an early point the story is heading along tramlines.

Where the film does succeed is in its creation of a very specific atmosphere, based on being set in a time and place that is no particular time and no particular place. But whilst The Double is best described as a dark comedy, I did also feel that the darker elements somewhat overwhelmed the comedic elements. There were a few laughs, but these were just a few occasional titters in the audience around me. This would not have mattered so much if the drama itself had been stronger, but I’m afraid the various elements of the film never really came together as far as I was concerned.

Rating: 6/10

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