Tuesday 6 January 2015

Review: Enemy

Before we get into the review itself, a few things... Firstly, here’s how the annoying and gimmicky ratings system works…

WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthy
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

Secondly, my reviews aren’t entirely spoiler free but I promise not to give away any really important plot points or twists. Anything I suspect might spoil your enjoyment will be properly flagged up… promise!

Lastly, I was tempted to try and cover all the new films I see but that way lies madness and burnout. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on those that don’t get the big, full-page reviews in the magazines and newspapers, the ones that appear unheralded on DVD and Blu-ray, or sit unloved in some distant corner of Netflix.

For instance, I’m going to see both The Theory of Everything and Birdman this week but the world and his wife are reviewing them so unless I have anything genuinely different or contrary to say it seems kind of pointless me - an obscure blogger - joining in too. 

So, at least for now, I’ll be focusing my attention on smaller but no less interesting films. Like this one…

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Melanie Laurent
Running time: 90mins

I wasn’t a huge fan of French-Canadian director Villeneuve’s previous film, the abduction thriller Prisoners. It starred Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, and boasted an intriguing enough set-up but fell to bits in the final third in a desperate attempt to give all its characters a happy ending. I’m glad to say Enemy (actually filmed before Prisoners but delayed for reasons unknown) is a far more laudable affair, albeit a bleak, surreal and rather impenetrable one.

This time, Gyllenhaal plays two roles. He’s Adam, a gloomy history lecturer who we first see in a depraved sex club, and Anthony, a philandering bit-part actor with a heavily-pregnant wife (Gadon, who I saw last in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars).

After spotting Anthony in a DVD and recognising him as his spitting image, Adam initiates contact between the pair. And it’s at that point things get truly interesting. Fascination and suspicion quickly turn to jealousy, rivalry and ultimately outright hostility, with the two women in their lives little more than sexual pawns in a macho pissing contest.

All that would be fascinating enough but you soon get the impression all is not as it seems in this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s 2002 novel, The Double. Are Adam and Anthony the same person warring for control of a mind in turmoil? Could they be twins, or do they just share the same mother (Blue Velvet’s Isabella Rosellini in the briefest of cameos)? And, um, what’s with all the giant spiders? The answers are left tantalisingly just out of reach but trying to work it all out is a big part of the film’s puzzle-box charm.

Villeneuve wears his influences on his sleeve at times – a bit of Cronenberg body horror here, a dash of straight-no-chaser Lynchian eccentricity there. He’s clearly a versatile director, though. I may not have cared for Prisoners but stylistically, tonally and in terms of pace it’s a world away from this. If I didn’t know it, I wouldn’t even guess the two films were helmed by the same man.

I particularly loved the muted colour palette – all dull beiges and dirty yellows – which just add to the film’s oppressive, off-kilter atmosphere, something it has in common with last year’s The Double, Richard Ayoade's similarly-themed film starring Jesse Eisenberg.

Enemy wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does if not for Gyllenhaal. His unsettling, creepy performance as the appalling Lou Bloom helped make Nightcrawler one of 2014’s best films, and he’s no less impressive here. A shambling, self-loathing mess as Adam, a flashy little wannabe as Anthony – I didn’t even think to look for the special effects “joins” in the characters' shared scenes because Gyllenhaal had me convinced I was watching two separate actors.

In time, Enemy may well go down as one of the great doppelganger movies (my favourites are Dead Ringers and Adaptation). Right now, it’s a must-see for anyone with a yen for the challenging and bizarre.

Rating: WWW

Enemy is in cinemas and available on demand now

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