PLOT: While watching a movie recommended by a co-worker, a history professor discovers an actor identical to himself. Fascinated by the man in the film, he tracks him down only to complicate the lives of the stranger, himself and the women they love.
REVIEW: What happens when you have two Jake Gyllenhaal’s in one movie? If the film is directed by Denis Villeneuve you have a tripped out, slow-burn feature with shades of Cronenberg and Lynch. The enjoyment of this odd little flick about a man obsessed with a doppelganger will depend entirely on the audiences’ level of commitment. The first hour or so ENEMY drags on revealing two identical men who live very different lives. Even with its leisurely pace there is a vague beauty as we meet the three women involved in this cerebral yet strange reality based fantasy. A most welcome surprise is that of the great Isabella Rossellini who portrays one (or possibly both) of their mothers.
The opening scene displays the world of an exotic performance piece where men go to be stimulated. It is a strange sequence that involves a pregnant, naked woman as well as other attractive females. Add to the mix a spider that is somehow part of the show. We are then introduced to Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) who seems to be bored with his life. He is a professor with an attractive girlfriend named Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and a content life. That is until a co-worker recommends he watch a film. He takes the advice and discovers an actor in a minor role that looks exactly like him. Desperate to meet the man, he ends up contacting him at his home. The identical man is a small time actor named Anthony Clair who lives with his beautiful, pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon, as of recently a Cronenberg regular).
After the two men meet, they begin to delve into each other’s private lives. As they find themselves fascinated by the striking resemblance they take on a disturbing game of role reversal. It is then that this eccentric little film finds its power. While there is hardly an ounce of believability in the script, it works well enough injecting a little darkness into the sluggishly told tale. Yet this is not necessarily a complaint since the director seems to relish the slow burn. There are times that it drags a bit and occasionally it feels repetitive, but it is clearly the filmmaker’s intention. Much like Cronenberg and Lynch, there is a heavy focus on the meta-physical and emotional side of the two men – as well a heavy dose of sexuality.
This is the second feature with director Denis Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal working together. In PRISONERS, the actor gave a strong performance as a cop always one step behind of a kidnapper. However in the dual role presented in ENEMY, he ably gives each character a very succinct personality. He is equally effective in both roles even if many of choices seem a tad farfetched. When the lines between the two men begin to blur is where he really shines. He also shares an intriguing dynamic with co-stars Laurent, Gadon as well as Rossellini.
Villeneuve maneuvers through this at times compelling – and occasionally frustrating - material rather well. This is an eerily constructed feature painted in a bleak yellow color with the help of cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc. As mentioned, this is slightly “reality based” but the script drifts in and out of fantasy. This is especially true with the sudden and rather creepy ending. The screenplay by Javier Gullón remains mostly true to the novel by the late José Saramago. However, some of the details have been changed with a few very specific nightmarish images to enhance the strangeness of ENEMY.
ENEMY is a convoluted, oddly fascinating and surreal tale. Gyllenhaal is especially convincing in a dual role with each one given a distinct personality. Villeneuve tells this story with a very slow pace which will require patience for the audience. However, those willing to take it all in, you will be rewarded with an intriguing and mysterious nightmare, complete with a horrific final shot. After having watched this only once, it would be difficult to say exactly what the hell is going on here… although I do have my suspicions.
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