|Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.|
There's much to appreciate in the film, which is based on a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel, if you can believe that. The picture often looks great and its cinematography and art direction feel as if they should be in a Jean Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam feature.
And Jesse Eisenberg gives a strong performance - or two - as the titular character and his doppelganger, who shows up and wreaks havoc on his life. In the film, Simon James (Eisenberg) is an intelligent young man who works in an office straight out of "Bartleby" with a slightly oppressive boss (Wallace Shawn) and a girl (Mia Wasikowska) with whom he is smitten.
We first meet Simon on a subway. He is sitting in his seat when a man, whose face we never see, tells Simon that he is in his seat. Our protagonist, being a shy and meek individual, appears ready to protest, but instead gives up his seat on the nearly empty train.
One day, a new employee named James Simon (Eisenberg) - who, obviously, looks exactly like Simon - shows up at work and begins stealing Simon's thunder by pilfering his ideas, schmoozing up to his boss and making passes at his love interest. The film becomes more Kafka-esque as it goes along until Simon begins to contemplate murdering his dead ringer nemesis.
On a surface level, "The Double" works - it's great to look at, the performances are solid, it's often funny and is intriguing. So, it's a shame when the film ultimately does not add up to much. This is, of course, not a criticism of Dostoevsky's work, but rather how the filmmakers use his material.
A much more effective study of the same type of story is Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy," a creepy thriller starring Jake Gylenhaal that was released earlier this year. That film also played with themes of identity, but much more successfully, and included an unforgettable finale. "The Double" carries you along well enough during its short running time, but ultimately this existentially dark comedy leaves you questioning what its creators are attempting to convey.