Saturday, February 22, 2014

Glasgow Film Festival Review: The Double

The Double                              15 (tbc)                               Four out of five stars

Director: Richard Ayoade
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Cathy Moriarty, Phyllis Somerville, James Fox, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Tony Rohr, Susan Blommaert, Jon Korkes, Tim Key, Lloyd Woolf, Lydia Ayoade, Sally Hawkins, J. Mascis, Christopher Morris, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Roberts, Kierston Wareing.
Running time: 92 mins

Black comedy from writer-director Richard Ayoade, loosely based on the story by Dostoyevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg as a weak-willed office worker who's tormented by his aggressively confident doppelganger (Jesse Eisenberg).

Stylishly directed and sharply written, this is a jet black comedy with a nightmarishly dark atmosphere, stunning sound design work and a pair of terrific central performances from Jesse Eisenberg.

What's it all about?

Directed by Richard Ayoade, The Double is based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (which pre-Kafkas Kafka) and set in an unnamed time and place that has a vaguely 1980s Eastern European feel. Jesse Eisenberg stars as timid office worker Simon James, who's shunned by pretty co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and practically invisible to his work colleagues – his boss (Wallace Shawn as Mr. Papadopoulos) still doesn't know his name after seven years and the surly security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) still makes him sign in with two forms of ID every day.

However, Simon's life is plunged into confusion with the arrival of co-worker James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), who looks exactly like him but is everything he isn't: aggressively confident, successful with women and instantly popular with the boss. Worse still, no-one notices that they look exactly the same and soon James is taking over Simon's life, bullying him into doing his work for him and even strong-arming him into letting him use his flat for sexual assignations.

The good

Eisenberg is inspired casting for Simon / James, since his screen persona is neatly split between nervy, Woody Allen-esque nebbishness (think The Squid and the Whale or Adventureland) and cold-hearted, obnoxious arrogance (think The Social Network or Now You See Me). Consequently, he plays both parts to perfection here, distinguishing one from the other so expertly that you almost believe Hannah when she tells Simon she can't see the resemblance between them.

The supporting cast are equally good: Wasikowska is charming and cute (yet agonisingly disinterested) as Hannah and Shawn is a delight as Simon's dismissive boss (the contrast in his demeanour when James appears is beautifully played), while there are also a series of enjoyable cameos from the stars of Ayoade's previous film Submarine - including Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins - as well as from Ayoade's IT Crowd co-stars Chris O'Dowd and Chris Morris.

The great

Ayoade's stylish direction creates a nightmarish dystopia that will be nonetheless instantly familiar to anyone who's ever toiled away in a thankless office job or suffered an enmity of a bullying co-worker. Similarly, Ayoade is a self-confessed film obsessive, so the film is packed full of enjoyable echoes of films like Brazil, The Hudsucker Proxy and the work of filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Aki Kaurismaki – there's even a hint of Billy Wilder's The Apartment.

In addition, the film is heightened further by some superbly imaginative sound design work, such as the scene where Simon tries to listen in on a crucial conversation but is thwarted by a badly-timed blender.

Worth seeing?

Ayoade's second film is a stylishly directed and darkly funny and disturbingly bleak black comedy with a pair of pitch-perfect performances from Jesse Eisenberg. Recommended.

Matthew Turner

(496 words)

Glasgow Film Festival Review: Night Moves

Night Moves                           15                    Four out of five stars

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Genre: Thriller
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard, Alia Shawkat,
Kai Lennox, Katherine Waterston, Barry Del Sherman, James Le Gros,
Matt Malloy, Logan Miller, Joel Polinsky, Autumn Nidalmia
Running time: 112 mins

Thriller, written and directed by Kelly Reichardt, starring Jesse
Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning as a pair of eco-terrorists dealing with
the aftermath of their plot to blow up a hydro-electric dam.

Engaging and provocative, this is a fiercely introspective thriller
from writer-director Kelly Reichardt with a pair of superb
performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Dakota Fanning.

What's it all about?

Written and directed by Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff), Night Moves
stars Jesse Eisenberg as Josh, an organic farmer in rural Oregon who
is plotting an act of eco-terrorism with zen-retreat manager Dena
(Dakota Fanning) and shady marine-turned-anarchist Harmon (Peter
Sarsgaard). Their plan is to make a statement by blowing up a
hydro-electric dam, hoping to give environmental issues some media
exposure and send a message about America's consumption of

However, their actions have unforeseen consequences and Josh and Dena are soon forced to deal with the guilt of what they have done. As the police begin to ask questions, Dena's guilt takes on the telltale form of a red-raw anxiety rash, while Josh becomes increasingly paranoid.

The good

Eisenberg is excellent as Josh, a not particularly likeable character
who's forced to confront a painful reality; intriguingly, Reichardt
keeps you guessing as to the exact nature of Josh's naivety or
otherwise beforehand. Fanning is equally good as the more immediately
sympathetic Dena (though she is as irritating as Josh in her own
hippy-dippy save-the-planet way), while Sarsgaard is effectively
chilling as the unpredictable Harmon, who's harbouring a destructive
streak of his own.

Fans of Reichardt's previous films will know what to expect, or
rather, what not to expect, since there is very little in the way of
actual action (no big budget dam explosions here), despite the
thriller-based premise. Instead, her thoughtful script is fiercely
introspective and the relative lack of dialogue forces you to
scrutinise Josh and Dena for telltale signs of the personal toll their
actions have taken.

The great

The script also explores issues of loyalty (both personal and
political) and the inherent ethical dilemma in causing a potentially
huge amount of damage in the name of the environment (a hydro-electric dam does seem a strange choice in that regard - presumably they were too far away from the nearest fracking plant). Ultimately, rather than standing as a call to action, the film takes a fairly depressing world-view, in a cleverly conceived, brilliantly subtle scene that gives you a clue as to the wider impact of their actions as far as, say, the media and the general public are concerned.

Worth seeing?

This a slow-burning, thought-provoking eco-thriller from Kelly
Reichardt that poses some difficult questions, thanks to a strong
script and complex performances from Eisenberg and Fanning.