Enemy

Movie Review #860

“Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the best dual role in any movie since Nicolas Cage in ‘Adaptation.’ As for the rest of ‘Enemy’, be prepared for an unconventional, warped, and terrifically clever action thriller.”

★★★★
By Alexander Diminiano

enemy

Released February 6, 2014 (internet)
Released March 14, 2014 (New York City, New York)
Mystery, Thriller
Rated R (contains strong sexual content, graphic nudity, profanity)
90 minutes

“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.” – opening title card in “Enemy”

Man’s greatest horror is knowing that his worst enemy is himself–the only human being that he has lived with for his entire life, understood for his whole life, eaten with, drunk with, slept with, thought about, dreamed about, and worked with for his whole life. “Enemy” says a steady “no” to this concept. Perhaps man’s greatest horror is not knowing whether the worst enemy he is facing is indeed himself or someone completely different.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the most complex, the most thought-provoking, the most dynamically performed dual role in a movie since Nicolas Cage starring as twins in “Adaptation.”  I have quoted Alfred Hitchcock as saying that the formula to suspense is basically when the audience knows something that none of the major characters do.  It’s his “bomb under the table” principle, and while this applies to the exposition of “Enemy”, much of the suspense thereafter (or perhaps all of it) comes from our absolute lack of awareness, our curiosity, and from the fact that the “bomb under the table” principle is reversed: often times what makes this a thrilling movie is certain instances when the characters know something that we do not.

“Enemy” is the work of Denis Villeneuve, the Canadian director who handed us “Prisoners” just last September.  Whereas that was an entertaining Hollywood production, “Enemy” is a breathless, surreal, and macabre independent film.  It’s independently produced by A24, which has existed for just two years and in that time has produced some of the most outstanding pictures of the new decade.  It lets loose a stunning side of Villeneuve that Hollywood wouldn’t think of showing.

The story refines an old concept as something completely new.  Adam Bell is a history professor at a college in Ontario.  He’s undergoing a lot of stress, and nothing seems to excite him.  He’s obsessed with working, and nothing else seems to matter to him.  While his open-mindedness seems slight, he’s just open-minded enough to find a path he really would be best avoiding.  Although he doesn’t like movies, his co-worker recommends him a local film called “When There’s a Will, There’s a Way”, and he decides to give it a try.  He notices a character in the film, playing a small part, who looks exactly like him.  Adam watches a few more of the local indies featuring the lookalike just to make sure he isn’t going crazy.

And then he calls the lookalike.

The lookalike’s name is Anthony Clair.  He receives a phone call from Adam Bell explaining that the two of them look exactly alike.  At first, he wonders if he’s being stalked, but even then, he’s more curious than he is worried.  It’s not even 24 hours later that he calls Adam back and sets up a time for them to meet.  They are both in total disbelief.  They know they aren’t twins, or brothers at all.  They don’t share the same personality.  They don’t lead the same life.  But as reasonable as it sounds that they’re different people, it seems just as probable that they are the exact same person.

“Enemy” plays out like ninety minutes of Travis Bickle talking to himself in the mirror.  It’s difficult to tell how much of the reality is actually present in the movie, as much of it is distorted and surreal.  This isn’t a conventional action thriller.  It’s very cerebral, and no matter how hard it makes you think, it’s always one step ahead of you.  The film is surreal, plot-driven, eerie, inquisitive, and unpredictable.  It takes a premise we’ve seen before and whips it into something we never thought we’d see.  We’re always sure we know where it’s going, but as a matter of fact, we most certainly do not.  The ending is unexpected, but it’s not a twist ending.  It demands that we think back to the beginning, and suddenly realize that it’s fully relative to the film.  And even once we’ve figured that much out, we’re still hung up on trying to figure out the finale.

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  1. A very strange and relatively confusing movie. But I think it needed to be so to just throw us off even more. Good review Alex.

  2. Ugh I really need to see this film. It sounds great and love basically all the separate parts: surrealism and jake gyllenhaal. And I liked prisoners quite a bit so I suppose I could say I liked Villeneuve as well.

  3. Really want to see this one. Gyllenhaal was superb in Prisoners.

  4. Best dual role since Nic Cage in “Adaptation”, you say? Guess I should give this a shot.

  5. “Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the best dual role in any movie since Nicolas Cage in ‘Adaptation.’ ”

    Are you forgetting Adam Sandler’s dual work as as Jack Sadelstein and Jill Sadelstein in Jack and Jill in 2011?? ;-)

    Seriously though, you got me thinking. Offhand Armie Hammer as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network was pretty memorable.

    • Adam Sandler’s performance as Jack and Jill was career-defining. I mean, if you look at his career as pure annoyance, rather than laughs, then it’s career-defining.

      You’re right, I’d forgotten about Armie Hammer. He was great.

      It’s kind of a questionable compliment to give a film, though, I guess…I can’t think of that many dual roles that have appeared since 2002 anyway.




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