Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has continued to shatter the realm of expectations with his every passing film proving to be one of the finest, most diversely talented artists in the business today. From his soft, beautiful Academy Award nominated film “Incendies” to last year’s big budget Hollywood ensemble thriller “Prisoners” he has simply refused to let up and fortunately for us his second collaboration with Gyllenhaal has resulted in “Enemy”, a completely unique and spellbinding tour-de-force that is a film arguably more impressive on every level. Villeneuve displays an absolute mastering of dramatic atmosphere and tone which is matched blow for blow by a deeply committed and truly unexpected career defining performance from Gyllenhaal.
While “Prisoners” was a successful and absorbing thriller marked by a brutally affective screenplay and unusually deep emotional complexity, “Enemy” proves to be an infinitely more satisfying and intellectually nuanced film though much more challenging and peculiar. The film was carefully adapted by screenwriter Javier Gullon from the remarkable 2002 novel “The Double” by acclaimed Nobel Prize winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago. The film begins with Adam Bell, a particularly withdrawn and despondent college history professor (Gyllenhaal), drowning in the oppressive monotony of his everyday life; reciting identical lectures to random groups of hung-over college kids who really could not care any less, returning home to his depressingly dark and empty apartment high above the downtown streets of Toronto where he struggles to sorts through endless stacks of vapid student assignments and the existential crisis that relentlessly plagues every part of his life made impossibly worse by the slowly disintegrating relationship he has with his supportive but understandably frustrated girlfriend Mary, played by the always reliable Melanie Laurent. Everything changes in an instant when Adam watches a film recommended to him by a colleague where he catches a glimpse of Anthony Clair, a small time arrogant actor who just so happens to look and sound completely indistinguishable from him.
Tortured by the unexplained existence of this eerie doppelganger and what it could mean in his life Adam organises a face to face meeting with the actor, a tragic mistake that immediately begins to unravel their seemingly singular existences in ways neither of them could ever have possibly imagined. Gyllenhaal carries the entire film, appearing in almost every frame he effortlessly balances the excessively contradictory personalities of the physically identical characters. The city of Toronto is soaked in beautifully melancholic yellow hues creating a truly disturbing cigarette stained concrete wasteland accompanied by the score created by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans that brings the audience to an almost unbearable level of anxiety and tension. But the true MVP here is Villeneuve who takes a film that could have easily been an incoherent disaster and makes it something completely brilliant.
“Enemy” is a complete masterwork, a film that maybe too frustratingly ambiguous or puzzling for mainstream audiences with its intentionally enigmatic premise, surreal moments and truly disturbing undertones, but for the patient and attentive viewer, the film is truly an unparalleled experience that will surely not be forgotten and will uncontrollably linger in your mind and haunt your thoughts long after the credits roll.
Written by Benjamin Rhea Johnston