Free Press at New York Film Festival: “Enemy”

Alexia Sirai Olsen of New School Free Press attends the New York Film Festival press screening.

Original scripts are gradually drowning under the genre of literary film adaptation. Turning novels into films can be challenging, especially if the author is dead or not involved in the project. But Garth Davis’s latest film, Enemy, based on the novel by Ian Reid, is attracting the author as a screenwriter. The author and director work in tandem to convey the vision of the novel, a task that can be quite challenging.

“Enemy” is about a peaceful couple whose lives change when an uninvited guest arrives with a dubious proposition. The husband Junior is played by Paul Mescal and his wife Henrietta is played by Saoirse Ronan, both outstanding Irish actors.

Working closely with the author, director Garth Davis maintains Reed’s signature style while immersing readers in the minds of the characters. This isn’t Reed’s first film adaptation, as I’m Thinking of Ending Things was also made into a film in 2020. By writing film adaptations of his novels, Reed maintains the integrity of the books.

Together with Davis, they brilliantly set up their characters to bravely admit their states of mind, especially as husband Mescal. This film broke Mescal out of his shell, who had become a one-trick pony in his previous “lover” roles. This challenging script gave Mescal the opportunity to explore his full range: expressing emotions other than numbness, playing a psychotic character, and flaunting his newfound acting skills. Mezcal set a new standard for himself.

You can’t help but think that the big mystery of Enemy has been solved, unlike the way Reed approached his first film, where the audience is left to put the pieces of the film together themselves. I’m Thinking of Ending Things was a brilliant piece of work considering it was Reed’s first feature film and many screenwriters fail on their first try. But I can’t understand why Reed decided to reveal the ending of this film when his cliffhanger plot worked so well in his last film. It might have been difficult not to spoil the big surprise, but I believe he would have created another masterpiece if he left us wondering how the ending would turn out. However, the script remains excellent.

A mystery ending hasn’t yet become a hallmark of Reed’s script, but I’d like it to be. A newbie to screenwriting, he has great potential for breaking boundaries – turning his books into films that make you root for the characters.

For all the great things about Enemy’s script, the film’s lack of closure on any issue made the work difficult, but Mescal eventually gets it going again. Reed is known for his creepy work, and Mescal’s outstanding performance made the film terrifying. The Irish actor gave a whole new meaning to the emotionally unstable man; his displays of such raw emotion even brought tears to my eyes. His performance of the character was something I have never seen from him, let alone anyone in recent memory. Watching Mescal tear his character apart, torture himself and drive him to madness was the type of acting that doesn’t come around anymore. Mescal made us want to get him mental health help and also desperately run away screaming for our mothers. It was chilling, giving us even more reasons to love Mescal’s portrayal and Reed’s character building.

On the other hand, Ronan didn’t surprise me. Of course, she was an extremely talented actress from the very beginning of her young career, and even her performance in Enemy was right on target. But it makes me think that Ronan may be such a gifted actress that we’re no longer overwhelmed by her work; we just always expect her acting to be exquisite. Additionally, the film doesn’t seem to focus too much on the role of Ronan’s wife. Despite the short list of actors, the plot is more focused on the husband.

In any film there is always an actor who outperforms the competition, and unfortunately Ronan didn’t top Mescal. His performance is hard to top, but that doesn’t take away from Ronan’s overall skill. If anything, she could have won Best Actress because of her consistent, incredible performance, especially considering Little Women and Lady Bird. On the contrary, Mescal is just beginning his film career.

The holy trinity of Reed, Davis and Mescal bring a new cinematic experience to the big screen. You leave the theater a different person. As Reed and Davis craft a story that balances family affection with personal struggles, Mescal leaves a mark on his audience that is an indispensable element of acting. As an actor, you want to change us, make us react, make us care. Mescal did more than just take care of us; he made us want to pick him up like a child and kiss him on the forehead.

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