Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini.
Release date: October 27, 2013 (Abu Dhabi Film Festival)
With his latest thriller, director Denis Villeneuve further cements his position as a master filmmaker and auteur. With Enemy, he continues to employ the fearless but precise form of story-telling that has become his mark, engaging the eyes, ears and mind of the audience in a complete visceral experience. It is more complex and spatial than his previous two films – Incendies and Prisoners, both top-notch thrillers in their own right – leaving the audience with a lot to think about and dissect.
Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a sullen history professor going through life’s motions with little interest in living it. On a colleague’s recommendation he rents a local movie only to discover that he has a doppelganger, bit-part actor Anthony Claire (also Jake Gyllenhaal). As he tracks down the actor, their lives and identities collide, pulling in Adam’s girlfriend (Mélanie Laurent) and Anthony’s wife (Sarah Gadon) into a hypnotic web of conceit and distrust.
As psychological thrillers go, Enemy scores full marks in grabbing viewer attention right from the first few minutes. Disjointed imagery and a specific color palette take the audience straight into a lucid-dream like reality that hints at the protagonist’s lack of clarity. As the intrigue builds, Villeneuve litters scenes with physical and surreal but altogether bizarre clues as to what might actually be taking place. Throughout, a mental image of the movie’s theme takes form without ever being clear, culminating in an unsettling final shot that leaves many questions unanswered but with enough fodder to fuel thoughts long after the movie is over. Therein lays the genius of the film – the fact that it is a puzzle, but not one that is designed to frustrate. It intrigues, even challenging you with an opening line: “Chaos is order yet undeciphered”. The movie may seem chaotic for the causal viewer, but deciphering it is an integral part of the experience. In fact, Villeneuve is precise in what is shown and spoken in the film.
Credit of the movie’s triumph must be equally shared with Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who has been proving his mettle film after film for years now. He usually stays under the radar, delivering performances that are understated and believable. Here too, the subtleties of his two performances provoke concern and condemnation respectively without employing any loud character traits. The body languages of his Adam and Anthony are similar enough to build on the puzzle that the movie presents, yet distinct enough to convince the existence of two separate people. Watch how both characters react to the realization of the other’s existence for proof that Gyllenhaal is one of the most exciting actors of his generation. Of the two ladies, Sarah Gadon as Anthony’s six-month pregnant wife is particularly impressive, bringing forth all the cranked up emotions her character’s hormones would cause. Apart from five named characters, Enemy is devoid of any supporting roles with a few in unnamed bit-parts. This creates a closed world for Adam’s character, even though he resides in an urban sprawling city. The movie’s muted colours add to the character’s entrapment, compounded with a selfishly meager sound design.
The fact that Villeneuve made Enemy less in the commercial space and more in the festival/indie/art scene is a huge advantage for cinephiles. His command over the language of film-making is fluent enough to be harnessed by big-budget Hollywood ala David Fincher and Christopher Nolan. The fact that he chose to not go there allowed him to explore intriguing but risque themes. This may change as he finds commercial success and mainstream award recognition, but his last three films promise a career graph that deserves our full attention. Meanwhile, all the best trying to get the movie’s last image out of your head!
Rating --> 5 of 5