Tuesday, May 13, 2014


The unsung stars of The Double are cinematographer Eric Wilson and art director Denis Schnegg. Wilson shoots the film in such delirious golds and blues and sickly greens that watching it is like wandering through a candy-colored nightmare. Schnegg, who has worked on such films as the 28 Days franchise, Breakfast on Pluto, and Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, gives The Double a look that might be described as futurist squalor. The Gilliam link is appropriate, for while watching The Double I was reminded a bit of Gilliam's Brazil, another movie that looked great but relied too much on style over substance. If The Double had a script and characters that could match the dazzling decorative work of Wilson and Schnegg, it might have been special. As is, it's well-dressed surreal fluff.
Jesse Eisenberg is our star here. At one time Eisenberg was hailed as a sort of supercharged version of John Cera, but he's become more like Cera with each role. He reminds me of one of those hairless dogs that is always shivering. Here he plays a hapless employee at a mysterious data processing center. The office, which seems to be in a barely renovated warehouse,  is managed by someone known only as  The Colonel, an Orwellian 'Big brother' figure who is seen only in infomercial clips to promote the company. Wallace Shawn plays Eisenberg's impossible to please supervisor, and Mia Wasikowska plays a co-worker adored by Eisenberg from afar.

The players shuffle through David Crank's relentlessly bleak set - this is one of those movies set in a drab, not too distant future, where our profiles are carefully tracked and organized on strange looking computers (the equipment Eisenberg uses looks like an ice cream cake with a keyboard). Yet, the elevators seem to have been built in the 1920s, and the subways also seem surprisingly rickety. (The subway cars of the future, you might like to know, are usually empty, all the better for Eisenberg to sit alone in them and contemplate his existence.)

Eisenberg's character is the sort who is harassed by security guards who don't believe he works for the company, even though he's been employed there for seven years. He's constantly losing his ID card, which should tip you off to the movie's sophomoric idea that we're all just interchangeable drones in a heartless corporate world,  or something like that. 
Into Eisenberg's life comes a lookalike, also played by Eisenberg (There's a running gag, which I liked, where no one else sees the resemblance, or if they do, they think it's only slight). This new Eisenberg is more aggressive and openly hostile. He's mean to waitresses and cheats on work exams. As usually happens in this sort of movie, the gals at the office are soon swooning over him. It seems that no matter how far we look in the future, women are still attracted to jerks.
The bad Eisenberg offers some tips to the wimpy Eisenberg, which results in a few mildly funny scenes where bad Eisenberg gives his philosophy of life. "Ice cream is fine, but ice cream cones are gay," he says. The bad Eisenberg seems alarmingly homophobic for someone of the future, where I'd imagined people would be more liberal. He even accuses the wimpy Eisenberg of being a homosexual. This might have been an interesting theme to follow, but like most everything else in the story, it's merely brought up and then discarded.

Eisenberg the actor doesn't do much to show the difference between the two Eisenbergs.  As the bad Eisenberg, he talks faster and smirks a bit, but other than that, we're left with (stuck with?) two Eisenbergs in one movie. Maybe one of them should have been played by John Cera. Anyway, the bad Eisenberg has ulterior motives. Soon, he's maneuvering to take the wimpy Eisenberg's job, and then his girl. But you knew that would happen, didn't you?
Director Richard Ayoade adapted the story from a novella by the old Russian champ of bleakness and morbidity, Feydor Dostoesvsky. Sadly, the movie feels more like a high schooler's parody of Franz Kafka.  Ayoade is also guilty of over-directing. For instance, when Eisenberg flips a quarter at someone, we see the quarter flipping through the air in slow motion. Why? What does such an effect achieve? I'm sure Ayoade loved it in the cutting room, but for me it was four wasted seconds. We also get a lot of scenes where Eisenberg is walking down a hallway. These halls are always long, and dark, and I imagine Ayoade sees them as eerie and dreamlike. There are also plenty of scenes where Eisenberg stares at things: mirrors, drains, and at his neighbor through a telescope. His eyebrows are appropriately furrowed, as if he's solving some mildly confusing brain teaser in that day's newspaper. But by the fourth time he gazes at something, you feel like grabbing him by the neck and asking, 'What the hell are you looking at?'
Ayoade also gets cute with his doubling imagery, and film school students may have fun counting the number of times we see things doubled. That is, when they aren't arguing over which scene is a rip of Barton Fink, and which is a homage to Being John Malkovich. Personally, I think they should find something better to do. I also think Ayoade felt that the exemplary work of Wilson and Schnegg gave him free reign to run wild. With such protection in the lineup, I can't blame him. Unfortunately, he isn't the equal of his cinematographer and art director;  his ideas are mostly drivel. This doesn't mean the film won't develop an appreciative cult following, for it's just arty enough to fool those who don't know better. Besides, Wilson's photography could make the weeds around a cesspool look interesting.
I wonder how many  will recognize Cathy Moriarty in the role of Kiki, a waitress at Eisenberg's favorite coffee shop. The woman once played Jake LaMotta's wife in Raging Bull. Now, 34 years later, she's in this pretentious mess. Now that's Kafkaesque...

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