Movie Reviews
11:39 am
Fri May 9, 2014

'Double': Double Toil And Trouble For Eisenberg

Originally published on Fri May 9, 2014 7:45 pm

In The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg invented Facebook. In Now You See Me, he mastered magic tricks. In Rio, his animated macaw learned to fly, and his Lex Luthor will soon be nemesis-ing the caped crusader in Batman Vs. Superman. But it's safe to say that none of those pictures asked half as much of Eisenberg as Richard Ayoade's The Double, which requires him, pretty literally, to meet himself coming and going.

Eisenberg plays Simon James, a milquetoast of a man, so meek and mild he goes through life unnoticed, and I don't mean that as a figure of speech. Seriously, people don't notice Simon James. Not his boss who greets him as if he's a brand new employee after seven years on the job. Not the office building's entry guard who has demanded his ID every morning of those seven years. Not his co-workers, or his neighbors, or the copy machine gal (Mia Wasilowska) on whom he has a crush, though she's never learned his name.

Simon James simply makes no impression on people. Then one day, a new guy shows up who is less invisible than Simon James — James Simon (Eisenberg again). And to Simon's consternation, James is instantly an office superstar — popular, outgoing, the boss' pet, and the copy machine gal's big crush. This, although no one but Simon seems to notice that they look alike. Asked if James reminds him of anyone, a co-worker replies "who'd you have in mind."

Ayoade, who's a comedian as well as a filmmaker, gives all of this zip and comic timing, though he's not made The Double funny, exactly. He's made it weird and dark and fiercely retro (Terry Gilliam's Brazil is an obvious inspiration), and filled it with clanking, groaning machines (that copier is the size of a small tank) to complement the office drones who act like cogs in a bigger machine.

This workplace-as-hellscape is not new territory, exactly — the story's based on Dostoevsky, plays like Kafka, and looks like an Orwellian nightmare. But who'd complain, since it lets Jesse Eisenberg offer what amounts to an acting master-class, illuminating diametrically opposed personalities as his nebbishy Simon and his increasingly manipulative James do things as ordinary as sitting down together in a diner.

Simon will ultimately come out of his shell, as his double's behavior veers into double-dealing and double-crosses, the devil in an existential hell that'll be familiar to fans of Russian literature, but that in a film at the multiplex, especially in blockbuster season, is as dark and as dazzling as it is rare.

Which of course, makes The Double doubly welcome.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the movie "The Social Network," Jesse Eisenberg invented Facebook. In "Now You See Me," he mastered magic tricks. He learned to fly in "Rio." But our critic, Bob Mondello, says none of those films asked half as much of the actor as the one that opens today. It's called "The Double." And Bob says it requires Jesse Eisenberg to meet himself coming and going.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Simon James is a milquetoast of a man, so meek and mild he goes through life unnoticed. That's not a figure of speech. Seriously, people don't notice Simon James - not his boss, who sees him as an office drone...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) How long have you been here, son? Just started, eh?

JESSE EISENBERG: (as Simon) Yes, sir, seven years ago.

MONDELLO: Not the entry guard at work who demands his ID every morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Please, sir, have to sign in.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) I see you every day.

MONDELLO: And his co-workers or his neighbors or the copy machine woman he has a crush on who's never learned his name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

MIA WASILOWSKA: (as character) Hi, creepy guy.

MONDELLO: Simon James simply makes no impression on people. Then one day, this guy shows up...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) I'd like to introduce everyone to our newest coworker.

MONDELLO: ...who is somehow more visible than Simon James.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) James Simon.

MONDELLO: And the problem is, he looks exactly like Simon James. Not a little - exactly. But much to Simon's distress, nobody seems to notice that either.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

EISENBERG: (as Simon) Have you spoken to the new employee?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) James? Yeah, sure. I met him.

EISENBERG: But did you notice anything strange about him? I mean, did he remind you of anyone?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Who'd you have in mind?

MONDELLO: Director Richard Ayoade is a comedian as well as a filmmaker, something you'll sense in the zip and timing that he gives the film's dialogue. Say, this encounter between Simon and the woman who can't remember his name.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

EISENBERG: (as Simon) So, you've never met anyone like James?

WASILOWSKA: (as character) I've never met anyone like James.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) I find that hard to process.

WASILOWSKA: And (unintelligible) about him.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) What is so unique about him?

WASILOWSKA: He has something.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) Yes, OK. But you've never even spoken to him so how can you know if he has something?

WASILOWSKA: I think that you can tell just by looking at someone.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) Just by looking at someone?

WASILOWSKA: Yeah.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) (unintelligible).

WASILOWSKA: I'm gonna show him my...

MONDELLO: But "The Double" isn't funny, exactly. Ayoade's made it weird and dark and retro with clanking, groaning machines and people who are cogs in a bigger machine. This is not new territory, exactly - the story's based on Dostoevsky, plays like Kafka, and looks like an Orwellian nightmare. But Ayoade makes it feel freshly minted, while Jesse Eisenberg offers, with his nebbishy Simon and his cocksure James, what amounts to an acting master-class, even when all he's doing is sitting across the table from himself in a diner.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

EISENBERG: (as Simon) I'll just have a Coke and a bagel.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) We're out of bagels.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) Right. Then - right - then I'll just...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Come on.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) All right. Sorry. I just, I'll just I - I can't have the Coke then?

MONDELLO: The waitress turns to James, whose approach is more forceful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

EISENBERG: (as James) Give me a coffee.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (as character) A coffee.

EISENBERG: (as James) And scrambled eggs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: We don't serve breakfast in the evening.

EISENBERG: (as James) Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Because it says so on the menu.

EISENBERG: (as James) Well, do you still have eggs here?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

EISENBERG: (as James) And do you have a frying pan?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah.

EISENBERG: (as James) Then do me a favor and make me some scrambled eggs.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Fine. Anything else?

EISENBERG: (as James) Bacon.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Bacon.

EISENBERG: (as James) And toast.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And toast.

EISENBERG: (as James) And a beer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And a beer.

MONDELLO: Simon is in awe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE)

EISENBERG: (as James) What? I'm hungry.

(as Simon) I don't know. It's just, I don't know. I always go for a doughnut.

(as James) You don't like eggs?

(as Simon) No, I mean, I just don't think I would feel comfortable talking to someone like that.

MONDELLO: He'll come out of his shell, as his double's behavior veers into double-dealing and double-crosses, landing Simon in an existential hell that'll be familiar to fans of Russian literature, but that in a film at the multiplex, especially in blockbuster season, is as dark and as dazzling as it is rare. Which, of course, makes "The Double" doubly welcome. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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