Data processing drone Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) has vain hopes of wooing work colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and clambering up the corporate ladder. However, a new worker called James Simon arrives and is soon recording the victories - chasing Hannah, impressing the bosses - that Simon should have won. What's more, they look identical. IT Crowder-turned-director Richard 'Submarine' Ayoade oversees this winningly absurd adaptation of Dostoevsky's psychosocial novella.
Director Richard Ayoade couldn't have strayed further from his wistfully winning coming-of-age debut Submarine with this adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's grimly deadpan noir nightmare.
Unlike the bright and cheery tenor of his life-affirming original, this comes from the dark recesses of Russian writer's bleak imagination, a sinister space which Terry Gilliam explored so resonantly in Brazil.
Jesse Eisenberg, with his armoury of hurt looks and nervy deference, is neatly cast as Simon James, an impossibly mild-mannered corporate drone who inputs data into a Bakelite machine in a greasy, unlit cubby-hole of an office.
He's so insignificant that the officious doorman doesn't know who he is (although he's worked there seven years) and Hannah (Wasikowska), the photocopying girl for whom he holds a sputtering torch, regards him with genial indifference.
His home life isn't much better - a grim Soviet-style workers' paradise bedsit with - tantalisingly - a view of Hannah's apartment. Yet what he ends up seeing is another resident giving him a fleeting wave before plummeting to his death on the concrete below.
Into this bleak world steps James Simon, the spitting image of Simon James (yet nobody seems to notice), a go-ahead player who confidently wins over the corporate bosses - particularly Edward Fox's Stalinesque The Colonel - and sets himself as a raffish mentor for the squirming introvert.
However, his interest is cynical and self-serving and soon James is stealing his doppelgänger's ideas and passing them off as his own while making a successful play for Hannah, a seduction that finally provokes Simon into action.
Ayoade conjures a claustrophobic atmosphere to convey the drudgery of his Kafka-esque bureaucracy with appearances from Chris Morris (an officious army man), Chris O'Dowd (a hopeless doctor) and Tim Key (the vaguely threatening manager of the old people's home where James' mother lives) to provide a little comedy light and shade.
Eisenberg is excellent in both roles, managing to nail both Simon's limp subervience and James' cocky, can-do confidence, while unnervingly, in the background a electronic score suggests that things aren't going to end well.