Aesthetically inclined and intelligently woven, Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel rings familiar as concurrent strengths trounce this lone flaw. Focusing on soft-spoken introvert Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) – an exceptional albeit unappreciated pencil pusher – as he perpetually struggles with existential inferiority, his life unfathomably worsens as his charismatic doppelganger increases in popularity. As said individual remains Simon’s polar opposite, the latter’s inability to conquer his personal demons plunges him deeper into a pit of despair he may or may not be able to climb his way out of.
Heavily capitalizing on Simon’s floundering sense of self, parallels drawn to preceding efforts – Terry Gilliam’s Brazil for one – are inevitable, however The Double‘s general air of sophistication tends to more often than not compensate for any and all derivation-centric shortcomings. Despite the familiarity of his unconquerable inferiority complex, hell, not to mention our natural inclination to hate him, Simon’s meekness serves to define him as submissive in the shadow of his superior. Once James Simon arrives, this tangible foil provides for a predictable but welcome amount of conflict, of which serves to benchmark the film’s most gripping game-changing moments.
From the moment James begins to mistake Simon’s kindness for weakness, we’re offered an equally bleak and enthralling take on the film’s source inspiration. As Simon scrambles to right the wrongs he commits to please his initial “friend,” whip-smart dialogue and Eisenberg’s penchant for quicker-than-average delivery do Ayoade’s production much justice. Although the disparity between characters can be overshadowed by the lead actor’s quirks, it’s also important to recognize how well he pairs with the writer/director’s stylistic flair. Submarine – while generic in the proverbial “grand scheme” of things – also sported a similar aura, of which was effective in elevating the film above standard coming-of-age fare, and to say that The Double‘s comparable presentation is anything but of equal note would be borderline preposterous.
In light of its dystopian familiarity, The Double is by far one of the better films you’ll see this year. It’s sufficiently character-driven and compelling as such, sporting a purposeful aesthetic reminiscent of its inspirations as intelligence permeates each and every sequence. In fact, singularity is what elevates The Double above all else, what with Ayoade’s creative gusto ringing especially affecting as the film’s events heat to a boil, much to the dismay of the central protagonist. It’s agreeably oppressive fare, however the film thoroughly excels in its pursuit in being the adaptation it strove to be.