Review: Enemy


Ambiguity is a tricky thing. In works of literature or film, withholding information can incite one of two reactions. It can be read as either an invitation to further ponder the intricacies of the work, or there can also be the impulse to dismiss it as mere self satisfaction on behalf of the author. For a film like Enemy, there are dozens of shades of grey, with few definitive lines drawn between what is truth and what is, well, far from that truth. Though it occasionally postures itself in heavy handed tones, Enemy is nevertheless tantalizingly enigmatic, due in large part to its double duty lead as well as its hypnotic filmmaking.

In the gloomy urban canyons of Toronto, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at a local college, lurches his way through lectures, this week focused on dictatorships and their vice grips on societies. He is a man seemingly beat down by the monotony of his life, and even his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent) fails to enliven him. One day, a colleague recommends him to watch an otherwise empty romantic comedy, but later that night he comes across something disturbing in the film: a man who looks exactly like him. Adam discovers that the man’s name is Anthony Claire, a third rate actor, but also a native of Toronto. Without hesitation, Adam commits himself to finding Anthony, from going to his agency, calling his home, and finally, meeting the man in person. When the two come face to face for the first time, all simple explanations are abandoned, and something far more sinister comes to the fore.

With his third feature, director Denis Villeneuve (whose previous film was the unsettling Prisoners) continues to show that his interests lie more in character complexity than in narrative propulsion. A key component to Enemy is that it shifts in its points of view between Adam and Anthony, further complicating their reliability. Jake Gyllenhaal has never been this compelling, especially when he has to take on two subtly different characters. Other actors who take on multiple roles may benefit from differences in appearance, but here, there’s very little to visually distinguish Adam from Anthony, save for their choices in wardrobe. Indeed, Gyllenhaal’s performances are wholly laudable, creating two distinct individuals, despite some lack of depth from either on the page. As Adam, Gyllenhaal does minute and internal work, as the man’s paranoia leads him into darker territory, whereas Anthony is driven by his own hubris and impulses. The other key players in this are Adam and Anthony’s respective female counterparts, both of whom become unwittingly (or perhaps purposefully) ensnared in this growing labyrinth.

Atmospherically, Enemy very much resembles a Polanski slow burner by way of David Lynch, as there are more than a few surreal images that gradually seep their way into the film’s textures. Those images are quite precisely captured in the photography, color graded to a hazy yellow to evoke a dreary mirage masking a malevolent underbelly. Though only 90 minutes in length, the pacing of Enemy is far from brisk. Meditative enough to avoid languishing into boredom, it takes its time to seep under the skin. There are occasional jarring edits that comprise brief montages punctuated by staccato beats of black, and are scored with especially oppressive horns. However, these are the only suggestions of pretension in the film. Even the more seemingly traditional scenes are cut with a sharp eye, as Villeneuve is keen to leave questions unanswered. Though there are certainly a few set ups along the way, there is still an immense surprise to the very penultimate shot of Enemy, one that terrifies and percolates as the credits roll. However, if returning to the film provides expectations for further answers and clarification, that would be a mistake. One senses that Villeneuve intends for the metaphysical complexities of Enemy to remain unsolved, so even if it becomes narratively rote, it will remain thematically haunting.


~ by romancinema on March 24, 2014.

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