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'Enemy' review: What the what?

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

12:00 AM CDT, March 20, 2014

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*1/2 (out of four)

A practical joke posing as a brain teaser, "Enemy" seems like director Denis Villeneuve's "Up yours!" to people who complained about the explanation behind "Prisoners," his other collaboration with Jake Gyllenhaal. "Oh, you thought that was contrived? Fine. Here's a movie with no answers at all. See how you like it."

In "Enemy," Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a withdrawn Toronto history professor who discovers that a little-known actor looks exactly like him. As in, exactly like him. Same face, same voice, same handwriting, similar-looking blond significant others. At first Adam tries to get Anthony (also Gyllenhaal, obviously) on the phone, a foolish strategy compared to, say, just standing outside his place and forcing Anthony to see himself in another person. Eventually the two meet and stare at each other skeptically, saying little and acting like the universe has cracked open to reveal some massive, terrifying conspiracy. At no point does either say, "Holy crap! This is insane. Let's discuss our lives and see if we can find out what's up" like the rest of humanity would.

Gyllenhaal does create two different people here, but any examination of identity halts when neither character is challenged to change or investigate himself. Every so often this adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel "The Double" -- not to be confused with the upcoming comedy "The Double," starring Jesse Eisenberg in a dual role -- shows glimpses of a secret society in which men watch naked women touch themselves and stomp on giant spiders. Could an "Eyes Wide Shut"-inspired cult have cloned Adam/Anthony or something? Are they twins separated at birth? Are the filmmakers crudely saying that all men are, I don't know, just giant spiders waiting for women in high heels to crush them?

Feel free to guess, 'cause "Enemy" ain't spilling. Adam oddly never confronts the guy who (intentionally?) led him to Anthony. The film presents this situation with the utmost seriousness and not a lick of interest in narrative progress or the fun of doppelganger episodes of "Friends" or "How I Met Your Mother." Weird stuff like this can be fodder for cult fandom, but I suspect "Enemy" is a movie that will leave even huge Gyllenhaal fans feeling like they've been had.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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