Updated: Friday, March 28, 2014, 3:01 AM
Is Hollywood seeing double? In The Face of Love, Ed Harris plays both a dead husband and his live look-alike, upending the grieving widow's world. In The Double (coming in May but sneaking in mid-April at the Philadelphia Film Festival's Spring Showcase), Jesse Eisenberg doppelgangs through an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's The Double. Even Kermit the Frog's got a dead-ringer nemesis in Muppets Most Wanted.
And so to Enemy, the dour psychological thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as 1) rumpled, downbeat college professor Adam Bell and 2) Toronto actor Anthony Clair, whom Adam first spots while watching a DVD. Anthony plays a bellhop in the movie, and Adam rewinds, fast-forwards, rewinds, fast-forwards, and hops right to the business of tracking down his spitting image.
Directed by Gyllenhaal's Prisoners collaborator Denis Villeneuve, and based on a novel also called The Double by the Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese writer José Saramago, Enemy is a spooky enigma, more ponderous than provocative, more silly than suspenseful.
As the distracted academic (he lectures on Hegel and dictatorships and the dialectics of history), Gyllenhaal waddles around in a glum fog, sharing coffee, and awkward silences, with his beautiful girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). Once the obsession with his doppelganger takes over (lots of staring into mirrors, lots of creepy-crawly movements just out of view), Adam grows even more remote.
"I'm worried about you," Adam's mom tells him by phone. Later, when we get to see this woman, it turns out to be Isabella Rossellini. Who better to appear in a David Lynch-like dream than Lynch's Blue Velvet muse?
As for the Anthony dude, his wife is played by Sarah Gadon, a porcelain blonde whose character is pregnant with child - and with meaningful pauses.
Enemy has the cold, gray feel of a Torontonian noir. (It's even got a Cronenberg - Caitlin, director David's photographer daughter - in its credits.) The film is not without power; there's a nightmarish undertow. But Villeneuve pokes around in cabinets that might as well be labeled "subconscious fears," "narcissism," "alienation," "eroticism," and "dread." It's that obvious.
When a depressed, disaffected man is confronted by his identical self, he is forced to investigate who this man, or that man, is. The answer should be more interesting than the deadpan punchline Enemy delivers.
Enemy ** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini. Distributed by A24.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes)
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy and the Bala Theater
Read full story: 'Enemy': A dour doppelganger tale