Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Enemy (15) | Film Review

Enemy, dir. Denis Villeneuve, scr. Javier Gulón, based on the novel The Double by José Saramago, st. Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon

If Richard Ayoade gave us a typically absurdist tragicomic and Ayoadean version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, then Villeneuve's take on the story takes us somewhere altogether darker and infinitely more disturbing, which is ironic given Ayoade's perpetual gloom of the cramped Gilliamesque office cubicles and high-rise apartment blocks, and the expanse of Villeneuve's sepia-tinged Toronto. To be fair, a direct comparison isn't just, as Villeneuve's film is based on the José Saramago novel The Double (or more accurately, The Duplicated Man, which literal Portuguese title perhaps better befits the film), and not the Dostoyevsky book. Saramago's book does however speak to the same themes of identity and individual existentialism, but personalises and modernises the protagonist's woes to take in the dread of fidelity and commitment anxieties.

Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a college lecturer who endlessly cycles through days of teaching the same patterns-emerging-through-chaos seminar, and emotionally dislocated sex with his girlfriend Mary (Laurent). On watching a movie rental one night, he screengrabs a fleeting shot of an extra who appears to be his doppelgänger, and on tracking him down, discovers that indeed the actor Anthony Claire is his exact double, tidier, kempt, and expecting a child with his wife Helen (Gadon), but physically the same right down to their hands and scars. So is Adam manifesting a neurological condition or, as the translated title of the source novel suggests, is this just a biological anomaly? Villeneuve scatters the breadcrumbs via a series of covert audio, visual and scripted cues, but unravelling the mystery plays second fiddle to the actual journey down the rabbit hole. With one part Hanekered menace and one part Cronenbergian surreal discomfiture, Enemy elegantly unfolds its story, aided by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans' Giallo-inspired score and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc's burnt oranges and hazy yellows. But the film is Gyllenhaal's in what I'll wager to be his finest in a whole slew of nuanced and eclectic performances that stretches right the way back to 2001's Donnie Darko. There's a terrible inclination for such high-concept storytelling to completely derail if not anchored by credibility, but Gyllenhaal gives a persuasively haunted performance in his portrayal of a man teetering on the edge of madness. Enemy completes a triptych of films from Villeneuve that couple utterly compelling narratives with uniquely distinctive production aesthetics; his heart-breaking and shocking Lebanese Civil War-set Incendies in 2010, and last years Hugh Jackman-led abduction drama Prisoners offered similarly accomplished and unforgettable cinematic experiences. His next project, next year's Roger Deakins-lensed Sicario starring Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro shows all the potential to being his fourth nigh-on perfect film on the trot.