Enemy of the State (1998)
Release Date: November 20th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Tony Scott Actors: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Jack Black, Laura Cayouette, Barry Pepper, Jake Busey, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Gabriel Byrne
ony Scott’s “Enemy of the State” amusingly examines extreme political corruption and its connections to – and influences over – national security and individual privacy. Far ahead of its time in fictionally educating society on its rapidly diminishing freedoms from governmental scrutiny, the screenplay favorably manages not to forget to entertain during its informative exercises – despite several mediocre performances and a few too many scenes overloaded with unfitting humorousness. It may not be expertly paced (though the alternating of laughs and suspense helps), running noticeably long, but it’s still, for the most part, a competently handled conspiracy thriller.
Robert Dean (Will Smith), a successful lawyer, accidentally acquires a tape showing the merciless murder of a U.S. senator at the hands of conniving official Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight). When Reynolds discovers the whereabouts of the missing media, he employs the National Security Agency to destroy Dean’s life and credibility – utilizing illegal phone tapping, bugging devices, and hi-tech surveillance techniques to swiftly denounce the unwitting opponent. After losing his job, his family, and his friends, Dean sets out to uncover the plot behind his sudden professional and personal degradation. Aided by an ultra-secretive contact called Brill (Gene Hackman), Dean gradually discovers the many benefits of having a friend in the business of immoderate bureaucratic distrust – and schemes to clear his name.
The editing style is a distinctly recognizable precursor to the frenetic looks of “Man on Fire” and “Domino” (Scott’s later, more visually experimental works), while the storyline follows the action-over-sensibility formula of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s extensive filmography. Despite its occasional disregard for realism and its negative depiction of the NSA (not that that agency could ever be completely redeemable), “Enemy of the State” nevertheless boasts a clever finale, mixing intelligent deception, explosive shootouts, and gripping anticipation. Intricately choreographed chase scenes also vary the adventure and sleuthing, smartly interrupting fast-talking conversations or distracting camerawork.
Perhaps the biggest problem is Will Smith’s performance, which grows steadily more annoying as the film progresses – and with repeat viewings. He rarely takes the situation seriously, which is worsened by frequent, oddly planted gags, such as a running joke involving Dean’s blender and Jack Black’s comedic interludes. It’s clear that Smith wasn’t able to shake the goofiness of his previous roles, having come from the comedy-oriented “Bad Boys,” “Independence Day,” and “Men in Black” in the years prior.
Here, Hackman is the more noteworthy player, picking up where he left off in “The Conversation.” He approaches the scenario with genuineness and enthusiasm, even if it doesn’t hold up convincingly around him. Accordingly, he elevates this cautionary tale of invaded rights and abused powers to something more entertaining than the clichéd and unoriginal concepts that supplement the basic themes (even if they cinematically pique the curiosities of the paranoid).
– Mike Massie