No one will accuse Enemy of lacking ideas.  The new film from Director Denis Villeneuve is chalk full of them.  His tendency to indulge in these ideas is also on display.  For better or worse Villeneuve uses Enemy as a playground for the human condition – leaping between reality and pseudo-dreamscapes to ratchet up the tension.  It’s unlike any thriller in recent memory because of this.  And it is Villeneuve’s ideas that give the film its power even if many of them are ultimately shallow and incoherent.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam – a schlubby history professor who spends his days being stared at vacantly by teenagers and his evenings grading papers and sleeping with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent.)  His vapid life is even hammered home by a Larry David/Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque soundtrack (we get it, he’s boring.)  One evening while watching a movie on his laptop Adam notices a background actor who looks…familiar. So familiar that Adam quickly realizes they are identical.  After finding his name in the credits he begins a methodical search for the man.  Are they twins?  Is it just a case of a really coincidental doppelgänger?

enemy-posterThe actors name is Anthony.  His life isn’t much different from Adam’s.  His days are mostly filled with motorcycle rides, visits to his agent and discussions with his very pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gordon.)  Anthony is confident though – the polar opposite to the stuttering, depressed Adam.  When the two finally meet it’s as if they are looking into a cracked mirror.  Everything looks and feels the same but is distorted.

Villeneuve is a online casino deft craftsman.  He filmed Enemy before releasing his late 2013 film Prisoners which garnered him national acclaim (more for the films look dgfev online casino than the film itself.)  Enemy is a beautifully shot and executed thriller.  His confidence as a director gives the film a resonance that it simply wouldn’t possess in the hands of a run-of-the-mill Hollywood hack.  The film is framed in a sickly yellow hue that makes Toronto looked possessed with an ugly disease.  That feeling seeps into every frame and into Gyllenhaal’s performances.  Both Anthony and Adam never feel like they have both feet on the ground.  They are constantly off-balance.  At times Villeneuve can be downright Hitchcockian which makes Enemy such a unique twist on a tired adult thriller.

For all of Villeneuve’s positive qualities as a director he does allow himself far too many indulgences.  The film is stuffed with symbols and themes about the duality of man and corruptness of the human condition but by the end it still had me wondering – what the hell was that all for?  Villeneuve wants to say something universal about humanity and man’s struggle to interpret female sexuality but by the end I found the message to be canned and lacking any real substance.  And seriously – what the hell is with all the spiders!?

The general public will probably hate Enemy.  Its lack of a coherent plot or structure is bound to frustrate more than resonate.  But it makes me more inclined to give it a pass because it’s trying something unique and interesting.  There is plenty to like from Gyllenhaal’s unique performance to Villeneuve growing as an exciting new director and maybe that’s all that’s needed here.  But for me, I could have used a few less 8-legged-freaks.

Rating: 3-Stars

Enemy is playing now in select Seattle theaters