A professor, trapped in a mundane existence, spots his double in a rented movie and seeks out his twin – a doppleganger who is like him in every way, except for his personality.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Adam Bell, a teacher whose tedious life is enough to depress even the viewer. He is also Anthony, a third rate actor who Adam sees in a rented film one night and instantly becomes obsessed with. After seeking out Anthony, Adam finds out both how eerily similar and disturbingly different they are. Adam’s calm and quiet demeanor butts up against Anthony’s brazen machismo in a clash of wills that could never end well for them. One may lose his life, both may lose their sanity.
Trust me when I say that my description is far better – and more logically sound – than the actual film. This is an interesting premise which left itself open to many possibilities for character examination, a look at the duality or man or any of a dozen other intriguing directions. Instead, director Denis Villeneuve turns it into a metaphysical study of power which veers badly off course, ending with one of the most hamfisted conclusions I’ve seen on film.
It is style which kills the substance of this film. Villeneuve seems to miss the fact that the point of the story is that Adam’s life is banal to the point of being painful and goes out of his way to drive home how tedious his life is with slow pacing, a shallow, washed-out color palette and other artistic touches which would work anywhere else, but here make the film itself tedious and banal to the point of being painful. Along the way, the viewer is inundated with metaphors of power and the webs they form to both connect us and trap us all. The result is a preachy film that fails to connect with its audience on any meaningful level – a sermon delivered in a tongue which only the preacher speaks. In a word, this film is its own worst enemy.