Enemy Review

Posted: April 6, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

enemy-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

In September of 2013, French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve made his English language debut with Prisoners. The film was certainly well-made and well-acted, but I had a lot of problems with the story and was overall disappointed. Since, I’ve seen Villeneuve’s Oscar nominated Incendies and it gave me a much greater appreciation for the man’s talent. I’ve come to see Villeneuve as a significant rising talent and a director whose work I look forward to. I was particularly excited for Villeneuve’s newest film, Enemy. Rather than follow up his break through film with another studio project, Enemy is a low-budget Canadian film with a small cast and a very cerebral plot.

Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor living in Toronto. Quiet and meek, his life is made up of a routine of lecturing his students about the same things, drinking wine, and having unfulfilling sex with his girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent). One day, a co-worker asks if he watches movies and recommends one. While watching, Adam notices an extra in the background who looks exactly like he does. After some research, Adam learns that the actor is named Anthony St. Claire (also played by Jake Gyllenaal) and that the two not only look identical, but sound identical as well. Adam finds himself excited by this, but after approaching his double, both Anthony and his wife (Sarah Gadon) are very alarmed.

 

This plot description may read like a straight-forward film, but Enemy is anything but. The film is an abstract and surreal experience which sometimes does not make sense, and leaves many questions unanswered. For example, the film opens with a very strange scene where Anthony visits some sort of underground club where he, and several others, witness a naked woman kill a tarantula. This event is referenced later in the film, but never explained. This surreal tone allows Denis Villeneuve to do some interesting things stylistically. The cinematography is very dreary and creates a sense of deliberate blandness. The film also plays with some unique yellow lighting in an interesting way as well as silhouettes. Villeneuve captures some interesting visuals and the camera movements are confident. I also really liked the score, which can be very ominous and haunting. All of this adds together to give the film a very bizarre and hypnotic tone which works well. The film even has some solid effects considering the low budget.

While the film does work as a stylistic exercise, as a story, it leaves a lot to be desired. The premise is certainly engaging, but the story doesn’t live up to it. The film has a very slow pace and many of the scenes in the first two-thirds only advance the plot in small increments, with some scenes not advancing the plot at all. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but where Enemy ends up going is disappointing, makes little sense, and does not reveal anything. The story provides little reason for an audience to invest themselves in the story. The exception to this is Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. Gyllenhaal does a great job playing both Adam and Anthony. Both characters feel distinct, fully developed, and carry the film well. I also admire Gyllenhaal for not playing both as extremes in order to make the differences between Adam and Anthony more clear. Instead, Gyllenhaal plays both characters with restraint.

When taken on a more figurative level, the story is a bit better than when interpreted literally, but not by much. It’s clear that much of the film’s elements are supposed to represent something else. However I’m not entirely sure what the film is trying to say. I get a sense that the film is making a statement about either how fragile a distinct identity is, or how people don’t actually have a distinct identity. The differences are minute. The fact that Anthony is an actor also suggests the film is making some sort of statement regarding the characters an actor creates and how they take on a life of their own. I’ve also read some theories claiming the film is about everything from totalitarian oppression to fear of intimacy. These theories are interesting and it can be fun to try and decipher the film after seeing it. However, these elements are not seamlessly ingrained in the narrative. Instead, they break any flow the narrative has. On top of that, while I do believe the various interpretations of the film are valid, I don’t think the themes are very nuanced.

On the whole, it’s hard to really know what to make of Enemy. The film features some interesting stylistic choices from Denis Villeneuve, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a very strong performance, and if nothing else Enemy is a unique and strange experience. At the same time, the story is unsatisfying and while there are some interesting interpretations to be found, the most surreal elements feel forced, and the film isn’t as smart as it thinks it is. Still, on the whole I’d say I enjoyed Enemy. The elements which work are quite good, and if nothing else the film is different from most other things one is likely to see in a theater.

B-

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