Review by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini
Running time: 90 minutes
Has Jake Gyllenhaal found the Martin Scorsese to his Leonardo Dicaprio? The Steve McQueen to his Michael Fassbender?
Based on the buzz here at TIFF, it appears so, and the actor's new partner in excellence is Canadian director Denis Villeneueve. Together, they have two films screening here: Prisoners, the child abduction thriller also starring Hugh Jackman that's set to open theatrically nationwide next Friday (I'm seeing that one today, but word is it's a dark, visceral knockout), and Enemy, the smaller of the two Gyllenhaal/Villeneueve collaborations. And now that I've experienced Enemy, with mind-fucking darkness and understated creepiness, Prisoners has a big bar to clear.
Based on acclaimed author José Saramago's 2005 novel The Double, Enemy plays out like a top-shelf Twilight Zone as directed by an art-house David Fincher. It's a sensual, off-center character study about college history professor Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), a detached, terminally unhappy guy living in a darkly lit Toronto apartment who drifts through life by day and has passionless sex with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) by night. One day during lunch, an intrusive colleague recommends that he rent the (fictional) movie Where There's a Will, There's a Way, a "cheerful" comedy with a happy ending. Adam picks up a DVD copy, pops it into his laptop one night after grading papers, and notices something odd: the anonymous extra playing "Bellhop #3" in one scene looks exactly like him.
Gradually becoming obsessed with their similarities, Adam does some research and finds the actor named Daniel Saint Claire's (also played by Gyllenhaal) two other movies. Then he finds out where Daniel Saint Claire (real name: Anthony Claire) lives and shadows him, eventually crossing paths with Claire's pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) and coming face to face with Anthony, who's also shaken up by the uncanny resemblances, down to their shared voices and body scars, and the fact the women in their lives look very much alike.
Once the nervy Adam and the more confident Anthony develop a toxic relationship, Enemy heads into dark, surprising directions, focusing less on unraveling the mysteries of its surface-level doppelgänger conceit and more on exploring the "What if" possibilities an impulsive man would infer from their situation if his penis did all the heavy mental lifting. Handling the highly complicated dual roles with aplomb, Gyllenhaal's on fire throughout Enemy—the controlled ways in which he separates the men by their individual eccentricities are quite extraordinary. It's a far cry from the Jakey Boy who, not too long ago, fancied himself a wannabe blockbuster action star (see: The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time). Working with Villeneuve seems to have motivated Gyllenhaal to step his game up big-time.
And rightfully so. Furthering the promise he showed off in the Academy Award-nominated 2010 psychodrama Incendies, Villeneuve indulges in a variety of genre tropes here. Pulsated by an eerie and tireless string score, Enemy wastes little time getting to its haunting weirdness. The film opens with a dreamlike trip to an underground club of some kind where rich guys pay to watch a beautiful, naked woman masturbate and step on a spider—as Villenueve presents the bizarre setting with hazy visuals and disarming slow-motion, you're left confused, fascinated, and mentally aroused. And he keeps that perverse uncertainty going strong until Enemy's oblique, Rod-Serling-friendly final shot, a symbolic punch line that both connects back to that opening sequence and puts Enemy into a sort of "metaphysical horror" category.
Come next weekend, the world's going to be chatting it up about Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal's starry wide release Prisoners, and if the early reviews are proven correct, it'll be for good reason. Hopefully, though, Enemy doesn't get overshadowed. Halfway through this year's Toronto International Film Festival, it's definitely one of my favorite TIFF films so far. In fact, it's one of three that I'd gladly see here again if given the chance before vacating Canada later this week (the others: Oculus and The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears).