Enemy (2014)

EnemyReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Mélanie Laurent. Runtime: 90 min.

You should really see Enemy with a friend. At least do yourself a favour and have a designated discussion partner to talk about the film. If you think too hard and try to figure out this puzzle of a film by yourself, you might find it to be a bigger challenge. The film follows Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a bored and highly disinterested history professor at a university in Toronto. He can’t even get himself intensely interested in his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Laurent). One day he rents a film based on the recommendation of a colleague. In the background of one scene, he spots a person that looks exactly like him; an actor named Anthony Clair, also portrayed by Gyllenhaal. Bell decides to seek out his “double,” which put of their lives on a collision course. 

In some of Bell’s lectures, he talks of dictatorships and how some use a lack of education to limit individuality – and, to a further extent, power over our actions. He also speaks of repetition. The first time something happens, it’s a tragedy; the second time it happens, it’s a farce. It’s a thought-provoking idea to ponder. It’s one of the many ideas the film proposes. The thematic duality is also enjoyable. I think the idea of a doppelganger is a fascinating one. It’s a concept delved into by many cultures. Spanish writer Javier Gullón adapts José Saramago’s 2002 novel called “The Double.” I’m not sure how faithful this film is to the novel, but Denis Villeneuve (director of the phenomenal Prisoners) tells the story with surrealist imagery, which he utilizes to great effect. This film is a dream come true for any fan of surrealism. 

Not one image of Villeneuve’s style is not arbitrary, even though it might seem it at the time. It contributes to the story in some way, even if you forget the image by the end of it all – and have to watch this again. Granted, at the time, some images might strike viewers as empty and meaningless. Villeneuve realistically captures the urges and tendencies of men, as well. Some paths he takes are dark and ominous, which sets the tone and atmosphere for the film. It’s a movie that proves the unexpected is so damn satisfying. If I were the filmmaker here, I’d probably just take the route of finding my doppelganger so I could play jokes on my friends. That would be a much shorter film than the engaging, intricately written 90 minutes at hand, that actually goes by fairly quickly. At times the film is sexy, unsettling, violating, haunting and all too memorable. 

Denis Villeneuve truly knows how to absorb his audience’s attention. With blending imagery of something like a Darren Aronofsky film (at times I was reminded of Black Swan), and a scope and atmospheres that remind me of some of David Fincher’s films, he is able to create a unique visual style and an enthralling mystery. His fascination with creepy crawlies makes an appearance in symbolism. The film all-around fascinates. Sometimes viewers may not be able to make heads or tails of things that occur on-screen – at least in first viewing – but I willingly went along for the ride. Even if surrealism isn’t your favourite thing in the world, you’ll probably be able to appreciate what Villeneuve sets out achieve. Some symbolism could have a stronger focus, granted, but ambiguity is intentional at times. The intention is to provoke thoughts and discussion – and it’s done so in spades. 

I cannot end this review without mentioning the phenomenal work from the cast. At times the women take a back seat to the Toronto landscapes and imagery. That is mostly Laurent as Mary, who is largely unbeknownst to Adam’s mission to find his double. She does great for what she is asked to do. Sarah Gadon’s character of Helen is in the thick of the plot and I think she has an interesting role. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a tour de force performance. He is up to the challenge of portraying these two very different characters. One is a timid, often distant character; the other a confident, intense and tempted character trying to figure out this whole mindf!#k of a situation. Join the club, Gyllenhaal number two. The character is driven by these two, and the one strong actor, who play with individuality and duality.

Warning: Try not to focus on just one, sole concept. Viewers with an attention to detail will benefit from that greatly. Villeneuve creates an intelligent and spellbinding experience with Enemy. He compels viewers from the beginning, to the final, absolutely haunting image. Good luck trying to forget that image. It’s what helps this become so memorable – and what is helping Villeneuve become one of Canada’s most exciting filmmakers. 

Score: 88/100

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Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See MeRelease Date: May 31, 2013

Director: Louis Leterrier

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo

Runtime: 115 min

The summer of 2013 hasn’t been an incredible season for originality thus far. There have been sequels (Fast & Furious 6, Iron Man 3, et cetera), book adaptations (The Great Gatsby), and not-so subtle rip-offs of better movies (Peeples). The time for pure originality has finally come with Now You See Me.

This follows an FBI agent and an Interpol detective who track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

NYSM is unlike anything else you’ve seen this year. You might think of this as Ocean’s Eleven with magic, especially if you watch them back to back. This is still a truly fun movie that feels fresh. There’s concepts of justice that are explored well. This works as a great show of showmanship, and as a great bank heist caper.

Its originality is easily admirable; it really is one of 2013’s most original films. For such a fun movie, it is also thought-provoking. It’s intriguing throughout, and often unpredictable. You’ll love every one of these characters, because they are all charismatic. The team of illusionists, called the Four Horsemen, are true entertainers. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic magician who knows all the best card tricks, and he’s very smooth with his words. Eisenberg’s sarcastic wit and arrogance fits the role. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist, who could read your thoughts. He’s one of the funniest characters. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a pickpocket. This crew really knows how to sell tickets. If you thought you’d really like to attend a live showing of The Ellen DeGeneres Show because you might receive free electronics; imagine attending one of these and receiving large sums of money. (Count me in!)

The FBI agent hot on their tail is Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who’s also a hot-head and isn’t an expert at maintaining his resolve. That’s an appropriate character for a guy who portrays The Hulk, isn’t it? Morgan Freeman portrays Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who now makes money by showing audiences how other magicians pull off their illusions. Mélanie Laurent plays the Interpol agent who teams up with Ruffalo. Michael Caine is the big man who gave the Four Horsemen their attraction at his hotel. Common is also there, just because he seems to show up in every movie. As you can see, the cast is one of the year’s finest ensembles.

The story and the cast are the movie’s strongest aspects. It’s endlessly entertaining and admirably unpredictable. The story wants you to believe in magic, and embrace the wonder of watching an illusion on-stage. It’s the mystery of magic; the wonder, that makes it so special. One usually doesn’t know how the trick is done, and that’s a problem for the movie… It shows how some of the tricks are done. Many might not like this aspect because some like to remain in the dark about the illusion; and it just extinguishes some of the magic of it all. The best tricks are the ones we are in the dark about. The movie’s visuals are very cool. The impressive visuals might just leave you with a look of awe, just like you might be attending the Four Horsemen’s show in Vegas. The direction is only decent. Of course the movie is flawed, so don’t look too closely. It’s fun on the surface, and thought-provoking underneath, but it’s shaky because it gives away some of the tricks.

Regarding movies that deal with magic, this is definitely better than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It’s an entertaining thriller that comes together in the end and answers most of the questions. Some questions go unanswered, but I think that’s just the point – like every good magic trick, we don’t need to know how every little thing is done. It leaves one or two things in the dark; but that’s precisely what helps this movie linger in the mind. This has a great and original premise and it has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. It’s compelling, clever, funny, thrilling, memorable, and most importantly; pretty damn magical.

80/100