Cinematic Releases: Enemy

Enemy: double your pleasure

"Man, I already told you, my
beard is so much better
than your beard."
Let me just get one thing straight before I begin: I almost feel stupid reviewing this film, because it’s one of those movies that, before you even leave the theater, you already know you missed half of what it has to offer. There are details in here that I am positive I missed. But that is also the film’s greatest strength: As soon as you’re getting up to leave, you want to watch it again, right now.

Enemy is the story of a history teacher, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is so painfully ordinary, so set into the mundanities of routine, that even boning Melanie Laurent on a nightly basis isn’t enough to quell his sadness. And lemme tell you, that’s gotta be some epic sadness, because that chick could set my theater on fire any time.

This normal guy—Adam Bell is his name—decides one night to rent a movie and watch it on his laptop, instead of jumping into bed with Laurent… BLASPHEMY!! And while watching this poor man’s “Room With a View of a Staircase and a Pond”-type movie, he notices one of the actors in the background looks exactly like him. Not just a little. Exactly. This is where an obsession begins.

Suddenly, there’s something outside of the norm—outside of routine—in this man’s life, and he makes it his mission to find this guy. 

By the time we finally see the two Jakes in a room together, they and us are asking the same questions: Are they brothers separated at birth? Is it just a coincidence? It’s amazing how the filmmakers slowly pile details on with tension, like a carefully constructed game of Jenga where the tower tilts but never falls.

This is one of the most hypnotically paced films I have seen in a long time. There are long passages of silence and no dialogue, but it is never boring. The cinematography is atmospheric and moody. The performances are also terrific. Sarah Gadon as the doppleganger’s pregnant wife is really good here, because her relationship with her husband is so much more embedded into who she is than the Melanie Laurent character’s relationship to Adam. But of course the movie belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal. He has an almost insurmountable task of creating two characters you can tell apart, yet with no discerning physical differences. Yet, without even seeing a wedding band, you always know whether you’re seeing Adam or Anthony. I don’t think it’s a performance that will win him any Oscars, but it will definitely get him more work. It’s the most complex character(s) he’s ever played.

"You don't know where
those hands have been!"
This comes right off the heels of Prisoners, also by this same director, Denis Villeneuve. I actually saw that for the first time just two days before I saw Enemy. I have to come out and say that I think we have a major new talent on our hands. This is a guy who understands and respects his audience. He’s not interested in hurling you through some ramshackle narrative at breakneck speed. This is a filmmaker who understands that reeling you in with the mood in those first moments is crucial. In Prisoners, he did it with a portrait of slice-of-life suburbia. In this film, he does it with a sense of erotic intrigue that will remind a lot of people of Eyes Wide Shut.

There’s very few films that will nag you with the compulsion of needing to see them again immediately—that by itself is an achievement. Enemy is also that rare film that toys with your mind without you realizing it. In the closing moments, as the walls close in, you realize just how fully Villeneuve has drawn you into his web. It’s not often when you can say you’ve been had, and actually enjoyed the experience.

- Blake O. Kleiner