Movie Review: 'Enemy' (2014)

A rambling Rorschach, “Enemy” is a surprisingly involving ride that takes viewers down the winding road of a puzzle that does its best to keep its pieces hidden. Tinged in dark yellow lighting, the movie provides viewers with an array of options. As it infuses as much overwrought emotion and countless explanations into itself as possible.

Adding to the sense of mania is that characters fall into a heap for no rational reason. The fact is the situation is so legitimately fathomable, the creepy undertones the film tries to evoke comes across disingenuous.

Our story begins with a scraggly teacher named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal). His life is basic and repetitive. He is involved in a relationship with a practically speechless girlfriend (Melanie Laurent).

While watching a movie he spots an extra (or atmosphere artist) who bears an identical resemblance to himself -- a doppelganger. This ignites a furious determination to learn who the man is and unravel the mystery as to why they share the same face.

It sounds like a logical thing to wonder and in the realm of mysteries, this plot makes for a compelling one. The underlying legend that if one is to spot their double they will die shortly afterwards would be a possible explanation as to why there is such an intensity surrounding this not-so-urgent circumstance, and yet the film never explores that superstition outright. The paranoia, heightened emotion, and fear exhibited by the main character comes across strikingly irrational without this context.

There are subtle hints along the way pushing viewers to one conclusion and then another. There is a lack of consistency in these clues and this is what makes it difficult to follow along or enjoy the mystery. In remaining so purposefully ambiguous, it offers little to actually grapple with.

The film is an illusion, a chance to take whatever you want from it. It is a case of pictographic ambiguity. There is no right or wrong answer. Similar to seeing a formation in the clouds, “Enemy” creates enough of an image to think something exists without ever substantiating it does. It attempts to incite the viewer the same way the aforementioned Rorschach test is designed to do, working to expose more about you than it does itself.

The saving grace and redeeming value in “Enemy” rests with Jake Gyllenhaal’s strong performance. He’s mercurial, entertaining and constantly watchable, while maintaining the tension at rousing levels. While the sparse script and dowdy direction do him few favors, he pushes past the bleak walls of the film’s confines. Gyllenhaal's co-star Sarah Gadon does the same with an evocative performance that is low-key and powerful.

Director Denis Villeneuve, who helmed last year’s spellbinding thriller “Prisoners” (also starring Gyllenhaal), offers nothing on the level of that film. As brilliantly tight and nimble as the direction was there, “Enemy” is chaotically over-directed and intoxicatingly oppressed by a yellow filter that simply makes it hard to see, adding no cinematic value.

After doing some research on the source novel, Jose Saramago’s “The Double”, there is a veritable clarity that exists within that book, which has been sorely omitted from the film. Quite frankly, there was no need to impede on Saramago's original work as it would have have been far more interesting to watch an accurate adaptation of his story instead.

"Enemy" has an intriguing premise and it offers enough to keep one going until the conclusion. Sorting through its vast interpretations is certainly what it hedges its bets on and with that it partly succeeds. The question is, at what cost? Rating: 6.2/10

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