Monday, March 31, 2014

Enemy Movie Review

There were scattered moments in Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners that hinted at the atmosphere and experimentation he employs in Enemy. The lingering shots of trees, emptiness, or recreational vehicles were indications of a different kind of filmmaking. But where Prisoners was a fairly conventional story presented with touches of auteur sensibility, Enemy is moving toward full-blown independence. If Prisoners was dark and atmospheric, Enemy is downright funereal.


Jake Gyllenhaal plays a dual role. First he’s Adam Bell, a mild-mannered history professor living a glum life of repetition including the humdrum sex he has with Mary (Mélanie Laurent). The second role is Anthony Claire, a bit part actor whom Adam catches a glimpse of in a movie one night. They are doubles – identical matches for one another down to a scar on their chests. And while a more conventional screenplay would have Adam assume a long lost twin brother, Villeneuve, working from an adaptation, by Javier Gullón, of Jose Saramago’s novel The Double. Enemy prefers to make every discovery seem like a harbinger of something terrible. So Adam paces and scratches his head and wonders what this could portend. And then the musical score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans intones somber notes, creating a soundtrack of genuine creepiness and sinister happenings.

The setting is the city of Toronto, though the pristine and clean city that I remember visiting nearly twenty years ago is here rendered like a concrete dungeon bathed in pervasive smog and overcast skies with interiors drowned in dim golden and ochre hues. I was continually reminded of David Lynch’s films, specifically Lost Highway, which also deals in doubles of a sort. But the atonal shifts from the conventional are really what make it so unique.

After Adam’s initial unease wears off, he is intrigued or even titillated. His first meeting with Anthony leaves him shaken, but then the double wants to know more, especially after catching a glimpse of Adam’s lovely girlfriend. He coerces Adam into allowing a little trade, imbalanced though it may be because Anthony’s not going to allow Adam anywhere near his wife, Helen (Sarah Gadon). That doesn’t stop him from dropping in on Anthony’s home, where Helen suspects what’s going on, but might even be a little excited by the prospect.

Gyllenhaal is an actor who has continually made astoundingly good choices (for the most part) in his movie roles. His boyish looks are just now starting to give way to a bit of age which augments the world-weariness that he’s able to portray. He gives two distinct performances here, both of which are pitch perfect and mesmerizing of a sort. When the two meet in a hotel room for the first time, Villeneuve doesn’t use distracting newfangled digital trickery to place the two Gyllenhaals in the frame together. The old fashioned tricks of editing and well-staged shot placement do the trick, but you always feel like two actors are present and having an exchange.

There are wonderful elements of the surreal throughout the film. It’s not for everyone, especially anyone expecting a nice tight resolution at the close. Villeneuve and Gullón are not all interested in exploring or providing explanations for such a chance encounter. The examination is of human behavior. It’s an endlessly frustrating and occasionally maddening ride, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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