Trailer Face-Off: Enemy vs. The Double

Published February 27, 2014

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Double and Enemy, doppelgänger novel adaptations that test the sanity of their startled leads.

PremiseThe Double is a dark comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Social Network) and Mia Wasikowsa (Only Lovers Left Alive, The Kids are Alright) based on a novella of the same name by Russian author Dostoevsky. Enemy is a thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko) and Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Bastards) based on a José Saramago novel, which is incidentally also called The Double. Jesse has a doppelgänger. Jake has a doppelgänger. Jesse has a sprightly blonde love interest. Jake has a sprightly blonde love interest. You get the idea. Jesse’s Simon discovers his look-alike and proceeds to have a comedic mental breakdown. Jake’s Adam seeks out his identical stranger and then wonders if he shouldn’t have, as his life starts taking some dark and eerily dangerous turns. The Double promises plenty of the oddball humor that Eisenberg excels at, but Enemy has the whole high-stakes fear factor thing going on. We want to know how this thing ends.Advantage: Enemy

TalentJesse Eisenberg, Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn (Cluessless, The Princess Bride), and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) vs. Jake Gyllenhaal, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, and Isabella Rossellini. At a minute and a half into the Enemy trailer, Rossellini gloriously drawls in her accented English, “You are my only son, I am your only mother” with all the ominous precision of Alan Rickman’s Snape. Ten points to Enemy. Advantage: Enemy

DirectorThe Double‘s Richard Ayoade is an actor, a comedian, a director, and a Cambridge grad, and when we caught up with him at the film’s premiere at Sundance, he charmed the entire crowd during the Q&A. As a director, he’s stuck mostly to TV (a particularly notable episode of Community included) other than the feature film Submarine, which was similarly dark in humor and stylized in production. Oscar Nominee Denis Villeneuve, who directed Enemy, also directed the under-recognized Prisoners starring Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal’s darkness was appealing in Prisoners, but his role wasn’t large enough for significant character development. Enemy could potentially be the fulfillment of that promise. Then again, we know what a Villeneuve-Gyllenhaal screen creation looks like. We don’t know what will happen cinematically when Ayoade and Eisenberg’s unique brands of wit and sarcasm meet.   Advantage: The Double

Old World AppealThe Double and Enemy both seem to call upon film influences of the past. Enemy‘s slowly yet tensely unfolding plot is drawing comparisons to director Stanley Kubrick, and the trailer’s screeching soundtrack and low character count are reminiscent of a different time in Hollywood. In a lot of ways, The Double simply is a story from another time. Dostoevsky wrote the original manuscript in 1846. The trailer’s almost obsessive attention to detail reminds us of the kooky old-world comedy renaissance similar to the likes of Wes Anderson’s upcoming Grant Budapest Hotel. With Son House’s soulful “Grinnin’ In Your Face” playing in the background, The Double hints at a uniqueness that we only see glimpses of these days.Advantage: The Double

Parent Trap TechIt’s been 16 years since the remake of The Parent Trap, and split-screen technology has been used in numerous iterations before and since, but somehow it’s still jarring to see doubles on screen. Neither film cops out and utilizes facial hair or recognizable features to differentiate their characters; they both rely solely on the narrative to keep things straight. Simon’s doppelgänger James is an annoyingly upgraded version of himself, reflecting all of Simon’s ineptitudes in glaring perspective. Adam’s mysterious look-alike Anthony is edgier than Adam’s conventional history professor character, and there’s a perceived element of danger that charges their meetings on screen with intensity. Enemy should be the easy answer here for that reason alone, but Ayoade takes interesting liberties with The Double‘s shots, often dressing Simon and James identically and pairing them on screen for no reason at all, other than to showcase the awkwardness between them. Thrill or hilarity? Advantage: Enemy

VerdictThe Double and Enemy both have an interesting indie unconventionality about them, and strong enough lead actors to pull that off. Ultimately, it comes down to whether you want to spend your time and money watching Jesse Eisenberg go insane, or watching Jake Gyllenhaal be pulled down a psychological wormhole. There’s something about the mind-bending mystery of Enemy that’s just intensely provocative. Plus, we miss the Donnie Darko days.Winner: Enemy

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