In a Venice year jam-packed with new, excitingly original works from established masters of world cinema, it was very difficult to pluck up excitement for a generic-looking French Infernal Affairs pastiche. This apathy has, unfortunately, proved mostly warranted for Close Enemies, an occasionally exciting criminal informant drama that struggles to form much of an identity of its own, and takes too long to get where it’s going.
Matthias Schoenarts is a good lead as Manuel, a mid-level drug dealer who eschews gang affiliations in favour of working freelance jobs with childhood friend Imrane (Adel Bencharif), who is secretly reporting to Detective Driss (Reda Kateb), who Manuel and Imrane also grew up with. It’s a plot full of betrayals and rival factions whose motives are always hazy, so the various twists and turns arrive with little punch.
Where Infernal Affairs and The Departed really succeeded, outside of the central premise, was in their consistently engaging pace and style, but David Oelhoffen’s washed-out, unfussy visual sensibilities work against the pulpy nature of the material. Infrequent dips into shaky cam for chases and shootouts don’t raise the pulse as much as they should, and it’s not long before you’re simply going through the motions as the film languorously approaches its conclusion. One gangland hit is viscerally thrilling, but it’s an all too rare exception to a dull norm.
Characters’ moral compasses and motivations shift on a dime – even, in one scene, in the middle of a conversation – and the police actions sometimes beggar belief, obviously breaking the law without much gain for themselves simply to extend the plot.
A majority Moroccan-descent cast is the clearest separation that Close Enemies has from its many, many peers, but its underworld setting and minimal female roles stop it from being any sort of bastion of representation.
CAST: Matthias Schoenaerts, Sabrina Ouazani, Reda Kateb, Nicolas Giraud
DIRECTOR: David Oelhoffen
WRITERS: Jeanne Aptekman (collaborating writer), David Oelhoffen
SYNOPSIS: Driss and Manuel are two childhood friends who end up taking opposite paths: Manuel chose to embrace the thug life, while Driss becomes a cop. When Manuel’s biggest deal goes terribly wrong, the two men meet again and come to realize they both need each other to survive in their worlds.