A24 via Everett Collection
Jose Saramago’s acclaimed novel The Double is a twisting, stream-of-consciousness narrative about a man who accidentally stumbles across his doppelganger. Full of long-winded passages designed to keep the reader confused as to what is real and what is imagined, it’s the kind of story that requires multiple readings in order for anyone to follow the abrupt and opaque turns the plot takes. It’s fitting, then, that Enemy, Denis Villenuve's loose adaptation, is equally as confusing and enthralling. It might not be entirely faithful to the text, as there are some significant changes (including the addition of a disorienting recurring spider motif), but it’s extremely faithful to the trippy and suspenseful tone of Saramago’s work.
Only Villeneuve’s second English-language film, the director has been making his mark in Hollywood with dark psychological dramas, and Enemy might be the film that makes studios finally sit up and take notice. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mopey, rumpled mess of a history professor, who spends his days lecturing to a hall filled with uninterested students, and his evenings in a quiet, repetitive stupor with his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent). On the recommendation of a colleague he decides to break out of his routine by renting a movie, where he discovers that one of the actors looks exactly like him. From there, he devotes his free time to tracking down Anthony Clair, a decision that results in Adam getting trapped in a web of secrets, lies and mistaken identities.
However, the film holds on tightly to whatever the truth is, and keeps its buried somewhere underneath all of that creepy spider symbolism. At a few points, it seems as if something is about to unravel the whole affair – we're on edge through visits to Adam’s mother (Isabella Rossellini) and conversations between the academic and Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon). The film's central design seems to be one of confusion and disorientation, but in a rewarding way.
That seems to be the goal of Enemy as a whole, and if it is, then it succeeds. The mystery of the film unfolds slowly, and both Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve draw out every scene in order to ratchet up the tension. Even then, though, the film gives off more of a constant feeling of unease than anything resembling a traditional thriller, which is heightened by the sickly yellow color palate that Villeneuve uses. Everything in the movie feel awkward and off, and forces the audience to attempt to break out of the twisted plot in the same way as Adam does.
There are times when the drawn-out, off-kilter nature of the film becomes frustrating, especially when the characters run away just as it seems like Enemy is about to show its hand. But even with the lack of answers, it still manages to present a riveting, suspenseful story. Much of this is due to Gyllenhaal’s two-faced performance, in which he relies heavily on elements like posture and clothing in order to differentiate between Adam, Anthony, Anthony-as-Adam and Adam-as-Anthony. He slips effortlessly between being a sad-sack and an arrogant jerk – a feat which the characters themselves, interestingly enough, are never quite able to achieve. It’s a tour-de-force performance, albeit a quiet one, and as the two men become more and more entwined, Gyllehaal adds layers and depth to both of them.The film doesn’t ask much of its supporting ladies, however, with Gadon, Laurent, and Rossellini playing one not characters who are tortured, confused and aloof, respectively. They exist mostly as plot devices that Gyllenhaal can play off of, there to remind the audience whether we’re watching Adam or Anthony.
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At only 90 minutes long, Enemy feels longer, which is meant in both a good and a bad way. Even when Adam and Anthony spend an uncomfortably lengthy scene circling each other, waiting for the other to make a move, the film is tightly paced, and packs a lot into a short amount of time. If it were any longer or any shorter, Enemy might be more of a let-down, but an hour and a half is just enough time to keep you squirming in your seat before releasing you back into the world with more questions than you came in with.
Go ahead and throw logic out the window on this one folks. A mysterious Tibetan monk with no name (Chow Yun-Fat) has spent a lifetime protecting an ancient document known as the Scroll of the Ultimate--a parchment that will yield unlimited power to anyone who reads it. After running around the globe for 60 years the Monk knows it's time to hang up his robes and find a new guardian but spotting a successor isn't easy in the hustle bustle of the 21st century where Tibetan traditions and rituals are almost non-existent. Maybe the next protector should be the crafty rebellious pickpocket Kar (Seann William Scott) who learned martial arts from watching kung-fu movies; after all Kar helps the Monk escape from the scroll's most avid pursuer Strucker (Karel Roden) a sadistic old Nazi who wants to use the its power to rid the planet of inferior races. Or maybe the Monk's successor is the elusive but beautiful bad girl Jade (James King) whose skills are numerous and who seems to pop up to help Kar whenever he gets in a jam. Whomever the Monk eventually chooses they must first unite to battle the ultimate enemy--and keep the scroll safe.
If it weren't for Yun-Fat Bulletproof Monk would be pretty hopeless. The charismatic actor finds a nice balance no matter what he does and in this case he resists the obvious temptation to play the Monk as a fish out of water in the big city. Since he's long been one of Chinese cinema's most well-known action heroes he's definitely in his element in Monk standing on top of a car with guns blazing and the Zen master persona he discovered in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon serves him well here too. The script requires him to spout off fortune-cookie mumbo jumbo but he manages to do it without sounding ridiculous. The petite King actually holds her own as the brawny-yet-brainy tough chick but the wisecracking Scott is completely out of his element for the first time in his career. He handles the little comedic tidbits well but in no way is it possible to believe that the "Dude" who couldn't find his car and the jackass who drank someone else's bodily fluids in American Pie can be a martial arts hero who saves the planet. It just isn't going to happen.
Bulletproof Monk relies on the ghosts of movies past including Crouching Tiger and the 1986 Eddie Murphy stinker The Golden Child for its plot which results in a film that's chock full of cliches especially the evil Nazi who has spent 60 years chasing after the scroll using his tow-headed granddaughter whose cover is an organization for human rights to do the dirty work. A few bright moments with Yun-Fat coupled with director Paul Hunter's good use of fast-paced martial arts action make the rest of this unimaginative movie somewhat palatable--even novices Williams and King look good doing the moves--but all in all Bulletproof Monk is shooting blanks.