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ENEMY (review)

Written by Javier Gullon
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon and Isabella Rosellini

Adam: I could do with something cheerful.

When taking on the task of adapting a book into movie, there is always something lost in translation. Either the characters don’t look exactly as we imagined or that one favourite scene of ours was omitted or new characters are introduced; the list goes on. But sometimes it works incredibly well because the essence of the story still remains, even though it may not have all the components. When Jose Saramago’s devastating novel, Blindness, was adapted, I was reluctant. Part of the beauty of that book (and many of his others) lies in the way the story is presented; that is, in this case, proper nouns aren’t used, neither are quotation marks and periods are rare. It’s the beauty of the printed word that makes his harrowing book so fascinating, and the film adaptation left something to be desired; it just didn’t convey the same feeling. While his novel, The Double, may not use the same grammatical and literary devices, it is filled with exquisite prose that wasn’t anywhere in the new film adaptation, Denis Villeneuve’s ENEMY, but I didn’t mind one bit. Villeneuve borrows thematically from The Double and makes it his own, creating a fascinating, troubling film that I can already easily call one of favourite films of the year.

gyllenhaal enemy

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a history professor with an indifferent girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) and somewhat of a boring life. One day while at work, a co-worker asks if he likes movies and, after an awkward interaction, the co-worker recommends a film to him. While watching this light romantic comedy (which he rented from Toronto staple, Queen Video), he notices something incredibly strange; one of the actors in the film looks identical to him. The resemblance is so uncanny that he is compelled to research the actor so that he can rent the other films he has been in. Anthony St. Claire (also, Jake Gyllenhaal) is seemingly his exact double, living not too far from where Adam lives.

Obsessively, Adam finds Anthony’s talent agency, then his home address, phone number and eventually calls his home, only to be mistaken by Anthony’s wife (Sarah Gadon) as his own doppelgänger. Disturbed and of course terribly confused, Adam seems to think his life is spiralling out of control because he just doesn’t understand how this could be; how could a man who looks and sounds just like him be living almost in the same city. Is it his twin? A lost brother? He even goes to his mother (Isabella Rossellini) for answers, and she assures him that he is her only son. This is where it really starts to get twisted though; “Stop trying to be a third-rate actor,” she says to Adam (who is the history professor, not the actor, in case this is at all confusing). The two men eventually meet face-to-face, to see their mirrored images in the flesh and slowly the demons (the metaphorical ones) begin to reveal themselves.


Opening with an absolutely stunning shot of the Toronto skyline, ENEMY is a tale of one man’s attempt at dealing with the lingering effects of decisions he has made in the past, and his ever growing feelings of guilt. Well, it sounds simple enough when put that way, but then there is this members-only sex club scene right after that initial shot, and all of a sudden things aren’t as straight forward as they seem. There is also a gargantuan spider lingering over the city so not at all uncomplicated. Still, never have I seen a film where Toronto has been depicted so devilishly, so chilling and complex, as in ENEMY. The city seems to take on the look of L.A., with a yellow hazy smog lingering over the concrete and metal skyline. The characters wear neutral colours throughout – whites, beiges, blues and the odd black garment to break up the washed out colour palate. Every scene in the movie feels cold, as though any traces of humanity have been removed from the city entirely.

It’s no secret that I am a massive fan of films that pay homage to my favourite director, Alfred Hitchcock. 2013’s STOKER was almost a direct reference to SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and its many shots of staircases couldn’t be more breathtaking. And here with ENEMY, we have a thriller that film buffs everywhere will surely appreciate for its ability to create almost unbearable tension. Just like in many of Hitchcock’s films, Villeneuve has characters who stealthily follow other characters (as in TORN CURTAIN, or STRANGER ON A TRAIN) and in ENEMY there are many scenes the master would be proud of.  As Anthony follows Adam’s wife to work, trailing her on the streetcar and sitting casually outside the street level window of her office, it feels like at any moment something terrible should happen, but Villeneuve doesn’t want to let us off the hook that easily. Much like Hitchcock, he wants to make us as uncomfortable as possible, and thanks to the minimal and haunting score by Danny Bensi and Suander Jurriaans (MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE), he achieves exactly that.


ENEMY definitely won’t satisfy every moviegoer; it is bizarre but beautiful in its own way, including Gyllenhaal’s descent into self-appointed madness as he deals with regret and guilt. His performance as two separate characters is astounding, everything from the way they speak to how the two carry themselves is distinctly convincing. Gyllenhaal’s dual performance stands alongside the great Jeremy Irons in David Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS, where Irons plays identical twins. ENEMY doesn’t provide answers to its many questions, but leaves much of the deciphering for us to do on our own instead, which is one of the many rewards of seeing a really amazing film anyway. And let’s be honest; looking at two Jake’s isn’t exactly a difficult thing to enjoy either.

5 sheep

For more on ENEMY, be sure to check out Black Sheep’s interview with the director, Denis Villeneuve.

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How many sheep would you give Enemy?


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