A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
In the two recent films that gave him an international name, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve brought an acutely concentrated vision to bear on stories of violent conflict beyond his native land. The Oscar-nominated "Incendies" concerned the horrors of war in a nameless but vividly evoked Middle Eastern country, while last year's "Prisoners" was a lacerating tale of kidnapping, terror and torture in a no less carefully described Pennsylvania town.
"Enemy," Villeneuve's latest (it was filmed between the two above-mentioned films, though it is being released after the latter), differs from the earlier works not only in being set in Canada, but also in offering a story that's ostensibly less concerned with painful real-life struggles than with dream-like subjective perplexities. Adapted by screenwriter Javier Gullon from Portuguese author Jose Saramago's novel "The Double," the brooding, crepuscular drama features Jake Gyllenhaal (who also starred in "Prisoners") in the roles of a man and his double.
Since stories of doubles, with their long pedigree in literature and cinema, inherently belong to the realm of the fantastical, "Enemy" obviously stands apart from the traumatic real-world political and criminal traumas of its two predecessors. Less ambitious (and, at 90 minutes, far shorter) than those films, it's inevitably less impressive, more like a semi-whimsical short story by a master whose real forte is challenging realistic novels of epic scope.
Yet that's not to suggest the three films are entirely different. Also tinged with the quality of nightmares, the violence in "Incendies" and "Prisoners" was, or had the feeling of being, fratricidal or internecine. In "Enemy" there's also a sense of the antagonists being closely related, whether as long separated twins, as two aspects of the same personality, or as guys who fall into a violent competition due to the accidental "kinship" of their identical looks. Which of these possibilities, if any, comprises the "real" explanation is a question the film keeps thrusting back to the viewer.