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Enemy

D: Denis Villeneuve / 90m

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini, Joshua Peace, Tim Post

Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal) is an associate professor of history, a little removed from his colleagues and students, but in a relationship with Mary (Laurent), though this has its ups and downs.  On the advice of a fellow teacher (Peace), Adam rents a movie called Where There’s a Will There’s a Way.  That night he watches the movie, but it’s only later that same night that he’s awoken by the realisation that one of the bellhops in the movie – played by Daniel Saint Claire (Gyllenhaal) – looks exactly like him.  Fascinated by his discovery, Adam decides to track down the actor; an online search reveals the talent agency that represents him.  Adam visits the building where the agency is based and is mistaken for Saint Claire.  He receives an envelope that contains a letter addressed to Anthony Claire (the actor’s real name) at his home.  Adam goes there but is too nervous to call at the man’s apartment.  Instead he telephones Claire but his wife Helen (Gadon) answers.

Adam calls again when Anthony is home but the actor tells him not to call again.  Later, he changes his mind and agrees to meet Adam at a hotel.  Meanwhile, Helen, suspecting Anthony is cheating on her, goes to where Adam teaches and briefly speaks to him (though she doesn’t tell him who she is).  Adam and Anthony meet and find they are entirely identical, even down to a scar they both have on their chest.  Scared by this, Adam flees.  Now it’s Anthony’s turn to be fascinated by Adam: he finds out where Adam lives and sees him with Mary.  Anthony becomes infatuated with Mary and manipulates Adam into letting him take Mary away overnight.  Adam goes to Anthony’s apartment and stays there until  Helen arrives home, and as the evening progresses, the two couples’ lives become inextricably entwined…

Enemy - scene

Right from the start, with its opening scene set in an underground sex club, Enemy lets its audience know that it’s not going to be the type of psychological drama/thriller where things are explained too easily.  That scene, with its ritualised stage show, serves as an introduction to the wider mystery that envelops Adam, and yet it remains frustratingly unexplored (though it is referred to later on in the movie).  For the casual viewer, frustration is the one constant the movie cleaves to, as scene after scene fails or refuses to give an explicit reason for what’s happening; very little can be accepted or relied upon at face value.  Enemy is a movie where inference and supposition will only get the viewer so far, and where the plot’s strange twists and turns only serve to make things more convoluted and disorienting.

And while some might find this counter-productive in terms of getting the most out of the movie, ultimately it enhances the experience, with director Villeneuve’s decision to make some scenes completely enigmatic while lacing others with complex misdirection, adding to the sense of unease that the movie builds up.  It’s an accomplished piece of deconstruction, removing key elements that most other movies would rush to include in order to make things easier for the audience.  Here Villeneuve avoids any attempt at clarity, and by doing so, creates a deceptively elegant, thought-provoking movie that rewards more and more with each repeat viewing.

He’s aided by an impressively layered script by Javier Gullón (adapted from the novel, The Double, by José Saramago), that makes a virtue of ambiguity and provokes as many questions as can be reasonably squeezed into ninety minutes.  It’s a delicate balancing act, providing just enough information to keep the viewer intrigued and baffled at the same time, while choosing to reveal very little through either characterisation or dialogue (unless you’re paying very close attention).  Between them, Gullón and Villeneuve have designed a movie that defies conventions and exceeds expectations with a great deal of audacity and artistic brio.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the participation of Gyllenhaal, who excels as Adam and Anthony, his performances so finely attuned to the material that he doesn’t put a foot wrong throughout, whether he’s required to play nervous and scared (Adam) or confident and predatory (Anthony).  It’s his finest role to date, and proof (if any were needed) that he is one of the best actors around today.  He’s ably supported by Laurent in a role that appears to be underwritten but which fits perfectly with the storyline, and Gadon (also seen in Belle), whose portrayal of Anthony’s loyal but emotionally scarred wife matches Gyllenhaal’s performance for intensity and poignancy.

The look of the movie (bearing in mind it’s set in Toronto) is suitably chilly, and the colour scheme – a mix of dark browns and greys – complements the often oppressive nature of the storyline, and the movie’s sense of impending doom.  There’s also a fantastic, unnerving score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jauriaans that is both portentous and imposing at the same time, adding a dark undercurrent to proceedings that is strikingly effective.  Technically daring, Enemy succeeds by grounding its ambiguous, sometimes fantastical, storyline and plot in a world where the mystery surrounding Adam and Anthony can be perceived as both rational and weird… and it still works.

Rating: 9/10 – a modern classic, precisely assembled and without an ounce of cinematic fat to it, Enemy is a psychological thriller that mesmerises with ease and ends with a visual punch to the gut that you definitely won’t see coming; the first of (hopefully) many more remarkable collaborations between Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal, and deserving of a much wider audience.

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