Saturday, March 15, 2014

Review: Enemy

Image courtesy of A24.
Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy" has one of the better freak-out endings in recent memory and it's the type of film that critics will say defies you to make sense of it. But much like David Lynch's "Lost Highway," Villeneuve's follow-up to last year's terrific "Prisoners" is filled with clues that certainly add up to something and is not just a willy nilly exercise in opaque weirdness.

The picture opens with a creepy, dreamlike scene during which Jake Gyllenhaal enters a low-lit room filled with men watching naked masked women engaged in various erotic scenarios, some of which include large, hairy spiders.

We then cut to Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), a downbeat professor who is lecturing his students on the nature of totalitarianism, reminding them that the Romans "used bread and circuses" to divert the public's attention and that dictatorships thrive on lessening education, artistic expression and any other means of allowing a person to be an individual.

Adam soon learns how it feels to no longer be an individual after discovering his doppelganger in a low budget film that was suspiciously recommended to him by a colleague. The man's name is Anthony Saint Clare (that's right, Gyllenhaal again), a B-level actor whose pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) even looks a little like Adam's on-again, off-again girlfriend (Melanie Laurent).

Bell suggests a meeting between himself and Anthony, which he soon regrets. He starts to unravel after alpha male Anthony proposes an uncomfortable scenario involving the two men's significant others.

Not since David Cronenberg has the city of Toronto been made to look so ominous. The camera creeps behind Gyllenhaal as he walks through the city's mostly desolate streets, over which electrical wires resembling spider's webs dangle. Even most of the interior scenes are fairly dark, the film's characters attempting to hide from - well, something - in the darkened corners of their apartments.

Gyllenhaal is one of those actors who does not always get the credit he deserves. His terrific work as both the nebbish Adam and the cocky Anthony is on par with his best work - "Donnie Darko," "Zodiac," "Brokeback Mountain" and "Prisoners." He pulls off not one, but two tricky roles here.

So, ultimately, what is "Enemy" about, you might ask? Is it an allegory for totalitarianism and, if so, does the film's final creepy image relay whom is running this particular show? The film is based on the novel "The Double" by Nobel winner Jose Saramago, who lived under a fascist regime for many years in Portugal.

Or is it about the dual nature of self and how one element of a being's personality can take charge over another? Or is it something completely else? Regardless, this is an unsettling little movie with two strong lead performances - by the same actor, mind you - as well a visual style that leaves viewers with an impending sense of doom and a final scene that most will not see coming and will hardly forget.

If "Enemy" doesn't quite reach the heights of Villeneuve's previous film, "Prisoners," it's still a very worthy addition to Villeneuve's already impressive resume, which also includes the Academy Award nominated "Incendies" and the haunting school shooting drama "Polytechnique." Here's a director you'll want to keep an eye on.

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