'Know Your Enemy': Film Review

Courtesy of Indie Rights
Sincere, sometimes clumsy drama would be at home on the stage.

Randy Feldman's directing debut uses a home invasion to investigate its characters' cultural prejudices.

A kidnapper seemingly wants above all to teach his victims a lesson in Know Your Enemy, a three-hander set in a trendy Los Angeles living room. The directing debut of Randy Feldman, it marks quite a turn toward serious-mindedness since the screenwriter's highest-profile effort, the 1989 Sly Stallone/Kurt Russell cop flick Tango & Cash. Three capable actors bring enough life to a script that could easily be staged as a black-box play, discouraging viewers from writing the material off as a none-too-deep bit of culture-clash moralizing. Their commitment is such that, even after the film takes some rather far-fetched turns, viewers may care about a tragedy they've long guessed is inevitable.

Nora-Jane Noone and Maury Sterling are Chantal and Daniel, bougie Angelenos with little more on their minds than how Chantal can keep better track of her sandals. Then she spots a strange car in the driveway, and is certain that its motionless driver (Farshad Farahat) has followed her home for nefarious purposes. She's right, and soon the unnamed man (we'll eventually know him as Shaheed) is holding the couple at gunpoint, sitting them down on the couch and quietly insisting that Chantal explain why he's here.

With a calm that suggests he's used to talking at people he thinks are dumb or dishonest, Shaheed makes observations about the couple's consumerism and steers them into fish-in-barrel moral debates. He takes his time making points and employs a couple of unlikely, threatening but not violent tactics, trying to nudge them into admissions of racism. Chantal acknowledges early on that she recognizes Shaheed as a man she cut off rudely in traffic, but neither she nor Daniel will admit to seeing this "Middle Eastern man" as someone less human than themselves.

Act Two finds Chantal making inroads, getting her captor to hint at the sources of his quiet rage (in flashbacks, we learn more than she does) — but being kept at bay by a man who never drops the pretense that he might murder her, her boyfriend or any neighbor unlucky enough to drop by. The twitchy, highly medicated woman is talking for her life, but Noone works to make us believe she actually cares about whatever has made Shaheed overreact so drastically to a breach of traffic etiquette.

After Shaheed menacingly invites his prisoners to test his willingness to harm them, the tables turn pretty definitively at the start of the third act. Chantal's response at this juncture proves Feldman no longer cares about convincing us we're watching a real interaction, but simply has fallen in love with talking things through. Though completely implausible and hardly revelatory, the screenplay's identification with multiple points of view will be comforting enough to art house liberals that they might not object. It would be nice, wouldn't it, to see the privileged white lady become friends with the Iraqi who has sought a better life in a society that demeans him? Yes, it would. Don't hold your breath.

Production company: Highflyer Productions
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Farshad Farahat, Nora-Jane Noone, Maury Sterling
Director-screenwriter: Randy Feldman
Producer: Hector Elizondo
Executive producer: Roger Birnbaum
Director of photography: Quinn Feldman
Production designer: Lindsay Minnich
Costume designer: Rachel Wilson
Editor: Reynolds Barney
Composer: John Van Tongeren

84 minutes