Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Denis Villeneuve bounces back with the tasty, dark Jake Gyllenhaal double-header, ENEMY

To those of you, including me, who found the recent Denis Villeneuve movie, Prisoners, obvious, tiresome and excrucia-tingly overlong, it is a pleasure to report that his newest film, ENEMY, again starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is everything Prisoners was not: concise and economical but also tantalizing and surprising. The film is full of barely buried dread and deals with themes of identity, paranoia, suspicion, that ever-present combination of sex and death, misogyny and maybe genophobia.

That's a lot to serve up on any plate but Mr. Villeneuve, shown at right, manages this with remarkable skill, discretion and subtlety  -- and all this from the man who also gave us Incendies and Maelstrom. It may be -- probably is -- that this filmmaker allows his subject matter and screenplay to dictate, at least somewhat, his style. Here--working from a screenplay by that excellent screen-writer Javier Gullón (El rey de la montaña and Hierro) based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winner José Saramago--Villeneuve directs as close to the vest as he's ever done.

The reticence and dark quiet he brings to the fore is unexpected and disturbing, and the performance he coaxes from Mr. Gyllenhaal is top-notch. Playing two roles -- Adam and Anthony -- and giving each one just the right posture and vocal veneer, this young actor continues to surprise us with his commitment and growth.

As the two women in Adam/Anthony's lives, both Mélanie Laurent (above) and Sarah Gadon (below) register strongly, even though part of their purpose here is to show us how similar is the taste in women that our two "heroes" possess. Isabella Rossellini makes also makes a single-scene appearance as someone's mother.

A quote shown us at the film's beginning notes that "Chaos is order as yet not apprehended," and the film bears this out strangely but dramatically, as Adam encounters his doppelganger, Anthony, and proceeds to both recoil from and explore this "other."

By the end of the film, you will realize that what you sometimes thought and who you imagined you were viewing was not on always on the mark. On one level, a very literal one, Enemy is a kind of horror movie. But symbol and metaphor are so ever-present that you really won't be able to take the film literally.

Enemy's ending, in fact, is about as abrupt and spectacular as any you'll have seen, with an image that brings us back to woman as destroyer -- Eve, as always -- and to identity and the impossibility of real change.

The movie, from A24 and running just 90 minutes, opens theatrically exclusively in New York City at the Angelika Film Center this Friday, March 14. The following week it will open across the country. Click here to view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters included. (This movie has also been playing, since last month, exclusively on DIRECTV.)

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