There’s a lot about Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy I love. The premise is can’t miss – Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon a film that features actor Anthony Clair (also Gyllenhaal that is his exact doppelganger. More intriguing, when he tracks down Anthony’s number, Anthony’s wife thinks Adam is her husband – their voices are identical. When Adam and Anthony finally meet, they have identical scars on their chest.

The gritty film quality feels like something out of the seventies where everything is dirty and the edges are a bit blurred, much like the morality of the film. Gyllenhaal does a nice job with both sides of this film, but the best performance is turned in by Sarah Gadon, who plays Anthony’s pregnant wife. The chemistry between her and Adam is fascinating, and overall, Enemy plays best when it follows its erotic thriller inclinations.

That being said, honestly, the storytelling in Villeneuve’s film is severely lacking. Based on the book “The Double” by Jose Saramago, Enemy often feels like significant chunks of pages were just skipped. There is almost no character motivation (why must Adam find Anthony? why does Anthony want to sleep with Adam’s girlfriend?). There are characters introduced that seem like they might be important but then just fade away (Adam’s mother, his co-worker). And then there is the mysterious sex-ring subplot that opens the film and never really pays off, as well as disturbing but completely nonsensical spider imagery.

I kept waiting for there to be some sort of Usual-Suspect-type whiplash twist that explained it all at the end but instead Enemy abruptly ties up all its loose endings in a car crash and the actors move forward with unmotivated choices. Another problem with the film is the pacing. Since Adam and Anthony meeting is inevitable, why does it take so long for the story to achieve it?

Maybe if the opening half could have been tightened up, there would have been more time to dwell in the romantic entanglements of each double, and then have some sort of resolution to the sex ring. Both men have found themselves disappointed with their life – and seem searching for an escape. Maybe that’s one of the central themes of the film, their disillusionment, even when swapping lives. But that doesn’t really work because Adam certainly seems like he’s going to take the new world he is offered, and Anthony does not seem unhappy before he swaps. He’s just a jerk.

The book may be a satisfying read but Enemy leaves its audience wanting to go back through the pages and figure out what they missed, and not in a good way. It feels more like a rough draft of a film – with a great foundation and some broadly drawn characters that do some things that then just ends. The main problem is that so many intriguing details are set up, and so few of them amount to anything. Even if the point is to leave it open-ended, it still has to feel that it has ‘completed’ something. Enemy is the kind of film I would not be surprised to learn producers had cut 23 minutes out of behind the director’s back. I actually hope it is, because I really want to see the film I thought I was seeing.

Enemy opens Friday, March 21st at the Violet Crown Cinema – it opened in New York and Los Angeles last week.


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