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'Double': Double Toil And Trouble For Eisenberg
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'Double': Double Toil And Trouble For Eisenberg

Movie Reviews

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 WASIKOWSKA: (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?

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

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

WASIKOWSKA: And (unintelligible) about him.

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

WASIKOWSKA: 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?

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

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

WASIKOWSKA: Yeah.

EISENBERG: (as Simon) (unintelligible).

WASIKOWSKA: 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)

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