While Prisoners was getting most of the attention last year, the film’s director, Denis Villeneuve, quietly played another film starring Jake Gyllenhaal at the Toronto Film Festival. Enemy didn’t find release until this year, and it’s quite easy to see why the film was not only completely overshadowed by Prisoners in Toronto but also dumped in theaters and on VOD during the doldrums of winter: Enemy is not a good film. It is easy to see that a lot of effort is put into this film but all of it is gone to waste due to a vision that is too obscure and too close-minded.
Enemy follows a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he thinks he has discovered a double of himself while watching his movie. The film then follows their meeting and the chain of events that their meeting sets off. Despite this film being complex in nature, the plot itself is actually quite easy to follow. It’s a character study of these two men that unfortunately goes to a more ambiguous place in terms of plot in favor of actually trying to explore what would happen if someone met their double. While this is obviously not what Denis Villeneuve is going for, the story he is trying to tell just doesn’t work. Villeneuve has a very distinct vision for what this film is trying to do, and the story and themes he uses to convey this vision just do not work at all. His vision is ultimately quite close-minded when it would have been better off to go with a more The Tree of Life-like way, which allows for many interpretations instead of one single interpretation where you as a viewer are trying to grasp at straws for where he got this from.
Too make matters worse the visual style that Villeneuve employs is very bland. It’s oddly quite noir-ish, but its dark palette is just used to dull effect. This is extremely surprising considering how well Villeneuve used a similar palette with Prisoners.
Fortunately, Villeneuve employs a strong cast as Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon and Melanie Laurent all deliver strong performances. Even if it takes a while for Gyllenhaal to create two different characters he is quite effective when he finally does so, while Gadon makes what could have been too subtle of a character on the page very interesting. As usual in her post Inglourious Basterds work, Laurent does solid work in an underwritten, supporting role.
Enemy’s close-minded vision and dull atmosphere ultimately fail it.