The Double review

Adapting great works of literature will always be a tricky proposition for any filmmaker and so it’s of little surprise that Richard Ayoade has taken a relatively safe, and probably very sensible route, with his feature film version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novel, The Double.

Aoyade has opted to only very loosely base his film on the book. In practice, this means he’s left just the bare minimum of the novel’s story intact and filled the remaining space with what seems like a compendium of every stylistic tick and flourish he could think of. Many of the stylings appear to be borrowed from other films and filmmakers, with Terry Gilliam and his seminal Brazil being the most obvious.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this sort of borrowing from the work of others – Gilliam himself has taken loans from the greats – but The Double has ended up feeling less like a coherent work than a cinematic mixtape, something designed to impress a new lover with obscure selections and esoteric taste. And yet Aoyade’s choices have turned out to be oh so obvious and painfully on the nose.

Jim Jarmusch, who is another cultural magpie, but one who displays a great deal of talent in re-employing his shiny prizes, was once taking part in a discussion of ‘sampling’ from others. He said that “Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.” And it is in that area of authenticity in which The Double seems to constantly fall down.

Jesse Eisenberg plays both Simon, the lead character, and his doppelgänger James, who represents everything he wishes he could be. Simon feels threatened by his double, fearing he could steal his life and, thus the object of his affections, out from under him at any moment. The normally luminescent Mia Wasikowska plays Hannah, the ‘object’ in question, and sadly that’s very much how she’s written, as just an object.
 Aoyade and Eisenberg try to present Simon as a little boy lost but the character’s behaviour around Hannah is rather more like that of an unstable stalker. He certainly proves a little hard to engage with sympathetically. James, on the other hand, is full of breezy confidence and, at first, feels like something of a relief from all the manufactured angst. But when he quickly becomes very tiresome it proves a real a shame. Nonetheless, Eisenberg gives a very impressive turn in the more upbeat guise of James, playing the role in many ways like his character in Now You See Me.

The minor relief of James’ brash interjection does provide a brief gasp of air during this more typically suffocating experience. Ayoade’s acolytes may find the style of The Double engaging, but I felt like he’d trapped me in hermetically sealed room that had been papered wall to wall in a pages torn from his scrapbook of favourite movies. The whole thing was exhausting and altogether entirely unsatisfying.

The Double opens in UK cinemas on April 4th and will then hit US cinemas and VOD simultaneously on May 9th.