Enemy

Enemy photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpg“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”

So begins Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s confusingly twisty but oh-so-stylish ode to David Lynch. The brew is a head trip of a cocktail that goes down deliciously smooth but will no doubt disorient you for days afterwards. Imbiber beware! It’s a refreshingly tight 90 minutes but has enough style to populate 2 additional movies directed by the likes of Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg. Its visually stark set design, champagne-hued color palette, cinematography, and score make watching every minute of this little perplexity a cineaste’s delight. By the end, however, I really didn’t know what I had actually witnessed. This will irritate some and enchant others. If you haven’t guessed by now, I happily claim to be a member of the latter group. I totally dug the film.

Enemy was adapted by Javier Gullón from José Saramago’s 2002 novel The Double. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Adam Bell, a mild mannered history professor. One day a colleague recommends a movie, which he subsequently rents from a video store soon after. Do those still exist? While watching late at night he notices an anonymous extra in the background that looks eerily like himself. Pausing the frames reveals a similarity that appears identical. Fascinated, he researches the actor and learns his pseudonym is Daniel St. Claire (real name Anthony). The curiosity becomes an obsession as Adam rents the performer’s other films. Next he finds out where Anthony lives. Then Adam uncovers his phone number and calls his home. Anthony’s wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) answers and mistakes Adam’s voice for her own husband’s. And that is only the beginning.

The whole production has this unrelenting feeling of dread. There’s something sinister looming you can’t quite put your finger on. Enemy plays with the conventions of doppelgangers. Adam Bell is the humdrum one, emotionally distant with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). He teaches history with languid enthusiasm to college students.  Anthony St. Claire on the other hand is more confident. He’s an actor who rides a motorcycle. His wife is expecting. For some reason his existence proves unsettling to Adam’s identity. The atmosphere instills Adam’s discovery with a sense of alarm. The narrative grows more fascinating with each new development.

Director Dennis Villeneuve worked with Jake Gyllenhaal on 2013’s Prisoners. That was a solid Hollywood studio picture, but this little independent is far better because it’s so bizarrely original and unexpected. The Canadian filmmaker knows how to exploit Gyllenhaal’s strengths. Jake gives two powerfully nuanced performances here, each one masterful in their own right. It’s a complicated balancing act because both guys must look identical in every way, yet remain two separate people. Even the physical similarities between the women in their respective lives are uncannily alike as well. An inquiring mind can be a dangerous thing. Adam’s visit to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) provides hazy details to an individuality that feels increasingly threatened. Bits and pieces of evidence of various sorts are offered up to the audience to help formulate an explanation as to what exactly is going on – that opening scene in a nightclub, for example.   You might think you’ve already guessed how it ends. Let me tell you, you aren’t even close.

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29 Responses to “Enemy”

  1. I love weird movies. Will definitely check this one out. Thank you for the review :)

  2. Fascinating review. I can’t wait to see this one. Really liked Villeneuve’s work and Gyllenhaal was superb in Prisoners.

    • I’m hoping these Jake Gyllenhaal / Denis Villeneuve collaborations become a regular thing like Leonardo DiCaprio / Martin Scorsese. They do great work together.

      • That’d be great. I’ve only seen them work together on Prisoners, but can’t wait to check out Enemy. I bet that one was so much more of a challenge for Gyllenhaal.

  3. I don’t know what to say about this. I really liked it, but was so confused. Every time I thought i’d figured something out, pouf, I was wrong again. I think that’s what I liked about it. There was NO predictability in this movie. I was so riveted and drawn to the screen every moment. By the time the end came. I really wanted more. You’ve got to see it to believe it. Also 4 1/2 stars.

  4. I can’t wait to see it. Incendies is one of my favorite films of all time and I enjoyed the hell out of prisoners.

  5. Nice work Mark, you’ve made me pretty excited about this one. Haven’t read much on it yet but what I have have all been very positive on it. The 4.5 stars from you is the most compelling so far. Looking very much forward to how Villeneuve follows up Prisoners, which I also thought was superb.

    • I don’t know how wide the release is planned for this. t’s hardly playing at any theaters near me. I do hope you seek this one out. I’ve really taken to it myself. :-)

  6. Gary Lee Says:

    This looks like my kind of film. Mysterious, unpredictable and off-beat. I will definitely check this one out as soon as it becomes available online.

    It reminds me a bit of this french mystery, “The Moustache” I saw a while ago about a man who woke up one day and decided to shave his mustache, and when he surprised his wife with a clean face, she told him he never had a mustache.

    • Yes definitely save this on your “must see” list. It’s hard predicting who will enjoy this, but as a fan of experimental cinema, you should be in heaven.

      • garylee828 Says:

        I just watched this and I admit it left me very confused. lol. I liked it overall, but I’m just not sure what the ending means.

      • That’s what I loved about it. There was an audible gasp at that last scene in the theater. I think it’s open to interpretation. I like some explanations more than others.

  7. You have me on this one. David Lynch is my idol, and I’m so glad to see a followup to Prisoners (and so soon!). Hopefully not as terrifying as Prisoners…you know how I feel about those kinds of movies.

  8. I just saw it today. i loved it. So good. Just wanted to tell you.

  9. I didn’t care for Prisoners, but I think my problems were mostly with its story and pacing. This film sounds like a fun trip though. I like Jake Gyllenhaal most days so I’m willing to take the ride. I’m always up for a good mental workout with my movies.

    • Prisoners and Enemy are wildly different films. You’d never know they were from the same director so disliking one doesn’t necessarily discount the other. Sounds like you have an open mind so you can watch without any reservations. :-)

  10. good recommendation Mark and Great review. i saw this today, what a movie. definitely twisty and confusing.

    the style and about 45 mins in, is very good. then it went on a confusing and less interesting direction, I thought. I had to research on the internet afterwards to understand it. now I appreciate it a Lot more.

  11. Spot on review, Mark. I’m in absolute agreement with you. There are definite shades of Lynch and Kubrick but I never considered Cronenberg. Again, I agree. It does have similar stylings to his work. I also thought it looked very much like Fincher’s work in its desaturated look, much in the way that Zodiac came across. Superb movie!!

  12. Good review, Mark. I too mostly like the film, though not quite as much as you.

    • One of my favorites for 2014. Possibly Top 10. We shall see.

      • Actually, in my own review, I say that it could have had a chance at my final Top 10, too, if only it weren’t trying to do so much in so little time.

        Which is to say, I can understand why you’d like it as much as you do. Parts of it are totally brilliant.

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