I love art as a medium of self-expression, particularly film. I want to hear/see what you have to say whether I agree with it or not. Though in this divisive time, artists either use art to express their frustrations or lays out some kind of call to action—good or bad. This frustration seems to have everyone on edge these days and it doesn’t take much to set one another off, especially in art.
In Randy Feldman’s Know Your Enemy, our protagonist Chantal (Nora-Jane Noone) comes home from a day of errands and is about to head out again for an important nail salon appointment. That is until she spies a mysterious car in her driveway. Freaked out, boyfriend Daniel (Maury Sterling) goes out to investigate. Moments later, he returns with a mysterious stranger (Farshad Farahat) holding a gun to his back.
This is not your typical home invasion story. He’s not there to rob or steal, but he’s there out of sheer frustration and suffering from a severe case of road rage. Earlier that day in her car, Chantal had cut off the stranger on the road and didn’t look back. Now in her home and with a gun in hand, the stranger begins a high-stress interrogation of Chantal and Daniel…mostly Chantal about this incident.
“Moments later, he returns with a mysterious stranger holding a gun to his back…”
The stranger’s questions get very personal, very fast. He starts digging straight into Chantal’s superficial white privilege, her love life, and her subtle prejudices. It is also important to know the stranger is from the Middle East as he forces Chantal into a tense tap-dance around all her responses. There’s a moment when the stranger goes through Chantal’s purse and finds a thank you card from a man at her job. He immediately questions why she’s holding on to the card and if Chantal is cheating on boyfriend Daniel. The stranger is skilled at finding the tiniest inconsistencies in her life and uses it to challenge her motives and honesty as to keep her mentally off-balance. This style of questioning is combative in nature and very intentional on the part of the stranger.
The film starts by blurring the lines between good and bad. While the armed stranger invades Chantal’s home and ties up her boyfriend, we soon learn that there are more to this stranger’s life and background. Also, as Chantal feels she’s an open-minded person, she did arrogantly cut off the stranger and has never really been challenged on her perceptions of people who are not like her. The title both implies that the stranger is highly skilled at profiling his subjects (know your enemy) and the importance of empathy in understanding people who are not like us (know your enemy).
My problem is the seemingly higher goals of the film just doesn’t work, especially if we’re supposed to find sympathy with the antagonist. When you start off highly abrasive with a character that invades your home with a gun, begins asking very personal and accusatory questions, and plays incredibly manipulative mind games, you have to come back equally, if not more, strong with reasons to sympathize and empathize with that character. It just doesn’t happen here. Good attempts are made to shift sympathies throughout, but it’s just not strong enough to overcome the initial setup and invasion.
“…like watching a poker game, where Chantal was the sucker, but spotted a ‘tell’ and then put the stranger on tilt.”
That said, Know Your Enemy is dialogue heavy. I personally found writer/director Randy Feldman’s script interesting and at times, fascinating. It was like watching a poker game, where Chantal was the sucker, but spotted a “tell” and then put the stranger on tilt. I also admired both lead performances by Nora-Jane Noon and Farshad Farahat. In lesser hands, this script could have come off flat and rehearsed. Instead, both understood their roles well, and their effort paid off.
When drawn into individual scenes, what you have are good performances with intriguing ideas. The problem with Know Your Enemy is when you pull back and look at the overall story, the scenes as their strung together fall short of any intended message.
Know Your Enemy (2019) Written and Directed by Randy Feldman. Starring Nora-Jane Noone, Farshad Farahat, Maury Sterling.
5 out of 10 stars