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New Release Review - Enemy

A timid college professor discovers his doppelganger residing in the same city.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini



Roughly around the time director Denis Villeneuve and Jake Gyllenhaal were assembling the overly acclaimed thriller Prisoners, the pair were quietly putting together a second film, an adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel The Double. The resulting film, Enemy, received a limited North American release in 2013 and only now, in the first week of 2015, is the movie seeing the light of day in Europe. Prisoners may have received the hype, but Enemy is the far superior of the two films.
Confirming himself as the most interesting, if not the most talented, American actor of his generation, Gyllenhaal convincingly essays dual roles here. We first encounter him as Adam Bell, a reserved history professor who sits down one evening to watch a movie, only to discover an actor who is in every way his physical double. After some online research identifies the thespian as Anthony Claire, Adam's curiosity leads him to track his doppelganger down. Though they may appear physically identical, Anthony is much more confident, but has a darker personality that leads him to exploit the situation in ways Adam is uncomfortable with.
Think of a less showy, but far more substantial, version of this year's other doppelganger movie, Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Double, and you'll get some idea of how Villeneuve's take plays out. Gyllenhaal portrays the dual sides of his characters in much more subtle fashion than Jesse Eisenberg did his, while Villeneuve uses a strangely depopulated contemporary Toronto as his eerie backdrop rather than a studio-bound artifice. In the hands of Villeneuve and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc, Canada's largest city takes on a suffocating, Orwellian demeanour, viewed as though through a piss-stained lens, replete with a giant spider that looms over the city's skyscrapers. Arachnids make several appearances throughout the film, a holdover from Saramago's literature kept ambiguous here.
In terms of plot, Enemy couldn't be more different than Prisoners. Nothing is spelled out here and it's left entirely to the viewer to draw their own conclusions as to what this all means. At times we begin to surmise the narrative may not be playing out in linear fashion, and that Adam and Anthony may have morphed into one another, while a pair of blonde girlfriends adds to the confusion. “Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered,” reads an opening title card quote from Saramago's novel. Whether you ultimately decipher the film's chaos or not, you'll find Enemy one of the most atmospheric thrillers of recent years.
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