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‘Enemy’: Engrossing pairing of Jake Gyllenhaal with Jake Gyllenhaal

History professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) actor Anthony Clair (Jake Gyllenhaal) face off psychological sexual thriller “Enemy.”  |

History professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) and actor Anthony Clair (Jake Gyllenhaal) face off in the psychological sexual thriller “Enemy.” | A24 FILMS

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‘ENEMY’ ★★★

Adam/Anthony Jake Gyllenhaal

Mary Melanie Laurent

Helen Sarah Gadon

A24 Films presents a film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Javier Gullon, based on the novel “The Double” by José Saramago. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre and available on demand.

Updated: April 22, 2014 6:09AM

By the time Oscar season kicks in, odds are you won’t hear much talk about Jake Gyllenhaal’s work in “Enemy,” but Gyllenhaal pulls off quite the remarkable feat in this provocative, strange and sometimes infuriatingly obtuse curio.

Even though Gyllenhaal is playing two characters who look exactly the same (and even though we’ve seen the doppelganger element in dozens of other movies), he infuses each man with so many subtle but distinctive differences, we’re never confused about which of the Two Jakes we’re seeing onscreen. It’s quietly magnificent work.

As for the movie: One can envision “Enemy” showing up on the “Worst of the Year” lists of some critics. One can envision some moviegoers hurling their popcorn at the screen. (Please don’t do that, no matter how mad you are at a movie. Somebody has to clean that up.) This is a weird, psychological sexual thriller clearly designed to get a rise out of audiences.

It’s also pretty damn engrossing.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (who also helmed last year’s underrated “Prisoners,” starring Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, which was actually filmed after this movie), “Enemy” is a freaky, mesmerizing oddball art film with some disturbing notions about women and spiders. (You read that right.) It’s the kind of movie that deliberately raises more questions than it answers, and practically dares you not to say “What the hell!” after the final shot.

Gyllenhaal’s Adam Bell is a Toronto history professor who delivers the exact same lecture to every class of semi-comatose, expressionless students who sit in front of their laptops, waiting for the hour to end. Sporting a thick beard, wearing dull clothes, shuffling through his days, Adam barely seems to be participating in his own life. Nearly every night, his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent, doing fine work) shows up at his apartment, where they get half-drunk and have sex in exactly the same manner. And then Mary gets up and gets dressed, ignoring Adam’s pleas to spend the night. She’s had it with Adam and his ennui, yet she keeps coming back.

Acting on the suggestion of a colleague, Adam rents a comedy called “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” and watches the film on his laptop one night. Like just about everything else Adam experiences, the movie barely seems to register — until he bolts upright out of a dream, suddenly realizing a bit background player in the movie looks exactly like him.

That’s how we meet Anthony Clair (also played by Gyllenhaal), a third-rate actor with a beautiful, pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon, who has a terrific screen presence). Anthony’s like the alpha version of Adam, a physical fitness freak, an intense personality, a perfectionist who rides a motorcycle and has had at least one affair.

It takes some convincing, but Adam gets Anthony to meet him face-to-face in a motel room (odd choice), where both men freak out upon meeting a mirror image, down to a distinctive scar on their torsos.

Of all the things you might do if you met someone that looked exactly like you — get a DNA test, gather your respective families, take the story public — let’s just say Anthony and Adam take more unusual paths. Based on the Jose Saramango’s novel “The Double” and trafficking in territory favored by the likes of David Lynch, “Enemy” immerses us in a world alternately realistic and dreamlike (or should I say nightmare-like). Even when the sun is shining, Villeneuve’s lensing of Toronto makes the city appear cold and relatively colorless and just a little … off. As small elements from Adam’s life bleed into Anthony’s and vice versa, we wonder if this is all some paranoid fantasy of Adam’s (or Anthony’s), or if one man is living a double life, and what’s the deal with the naked woman walking on the ceiling anyway?

With a jarring score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaan, some startling editing choices and powerful performances from the four main leads — make that the three main leads — “Enemy” keeps us on edge, even when it pulls the rug out from under us. A few of the twists and turns are more insane than enlightening, and I found the ending more irritating than inspired, but this is not a film about tying up loose ends and answering all the big questions. It’s an unsettling mood piece that taps into some pretty dark corners of the mind.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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