R *** ½
The Double is a movie that starts out creepy and slowly moves into surreal territory. Everything from the production design to the weirdly affecting performances is perfect, evoking a feeling of curiosity and slight dread. Jesse Eisenberg does great work playing a worker bee that the world has overlooked. His acting is equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious but never feels forced. It's his finest work to date. To me, that's saying a lot.
The premise is this: Eisenberberg's character, Simon, returns home one night and sees a man jumping off a building across from his apartment. The next day, a man who looks exactly like Simon begins work at Simon’s place of employment and slowly begins to infect every corner of his life. It is here that Mr. Eisenberg really begins to show his talents as an actor. The dual role requires him to continually strike different notes in each scene. Each time, he is more than up to the task. Simon is soft spoken and shy. James, the double, is a womanizing party animal who is up for anything.
Another ingredient that makes this bizarre tale work is the wonderful supporting cast. Wallace Shawn is terrific as Simon's dimwitted boss who is a bit too easy to impress. Mia Wasikowska is lovely as the object of Simon, and James' affection. The term affection means something very different to both of these men, but that strand of the story is one of the many joys of this wildly inventive gem.
The Double is the first rate work of director Richard Ayoade, cinematographer Erik Wilson, and production designer David Crank. The sets are small and claustrophobic, immersing us in Simon's lonely and underwhelming life. The lighting is bleak and suggests that there are horrible things awaiting our protagonist at any time. The sound is the final cog in this machine. It seems to be toying with us. Doing its best, and often succeeding at keeping us on edge. The artists that worked on this film have made something truly close to great.
The bottom line is that this film is a real treat, one that rewards an attentive and open viewer. It’s an ambitious film that should win over almost anyone who gives it a chance.