Enemy of the State (1998)

reviewed by
Michael Redman

"Enemy" frantic paranoid fun
Enemy Of The State
A Film Review By Michael Redman
Copyright 1998 By Michael Redman

Like other popular media, movies often reflect the mood and concerns of the public. During the fifties, science fiction was a thinly disguised warning of the communist threat. Recently we've seen numerous films dealing with the supernatural and the afterlife, mirroring desires for a life more fulfilling.

A theme for years has been the threat of big government and more specifically lately, the erosion of personal rights. Since Watergate, more and more people are convinced that every government official is lying. The right points to Waco and Ruby Ridge as evidence that the Feds are out to get us. The left says that new powers given to law enforcement continue the slide down the slippery slope to fascism. The "roving" wiretap law provides for phone taps at any residence or business that the suspect ever walks into. Drug laws allow permanent property confiscation without a trial.

Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) has always disputed his wife's (Regina King) belief that our rights are being sold out. He's sure that it's only the criminals who have anything to fear. Now he's beginning to think that maybe Carla is right. Someone powerful is out to get the DC labor lawyer. His credit cards are cancelled. There are eavesdropping bugs planted everywhere he goes. Tracking devices are all over his clothes. He's wanted for murder. Newspaper headlines proclaim an affair with an old girlfriend. Something's going on and he doesn't have a clue.

What Dean doesn't know is that during a chance encounter with an old friend, he became the unwitting owner of a mini-disk slipped into his shopping bag. Shortly afterwards he sees his friend lying dead in a city street, his body being searched by a small army. The disk contains evidence of the murder of a US congressman by a rogue black ops section of the National Security Agency (a top secret organization referred to only somewhat inaccurately in the past as "No Such Agency").

NSA official Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight) who engineered the assassination will stop at nothing to retrieve the disk and he has all the latest electronic spy gizmos at his disposal. Satellites beam high resolution videos and a truck filled with cool high-tech equipment sees and hears everything.

Dean's wife kicks him out of the house after reading of his supposed sexual indiscretion. He's fired from his legal firm. With no one else to turn to, he contacts his college girlfriend, Rachel Banks (Lisa Bonet). She's been the go-between for him when he needs the services of an underground surveillance expert known only as "Brill" (Gene Hackman). Brill is his only hope for survival.

The movie is a variation of the wrongly accused man on the run plot, but it's presented with a high-energy assault on the senses. There's no time to consider going for popcorn or even to think when the screen attacks your eyes. The team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott (both responsible for "Top Gun", "Beverly Hills Cop II", "Crimson Tide") doesn't give us a break in this hyper-active suspense film.

The acting is generally top-notch. Hackman is always a delight and hits his paranoid character perfectly. It's unfortunate that he doesn't have more screen time. The subtle references to another film ("The Conversation") where he played a surveillance expert is intriguing to those that remember the earlier role. This could almost be the same person 25 years later.

Smith again demonstrates his increasing appeal as a leading man. Here he convinces us that he's just an ordinary guy caught in circumstances beyond his control. Some of the comedy bits fall a little flat, but they're soon forgotten.

The rest of the main players do their job admirably but one of the best aspects of the film is the team of techno-geeks. They're the usual computer nerds you've seen in other films. Slovenly, looking like they're 14, pushing lots of buttons and shouting gobbley-gook, this time they're the bad guys. Especially entertaining is Jack Black.

There are a couple of things that make little sense. The NSA creates a 3-D image from a surveillance camera in a lingerie shop. It's very doubtful that the store has enough cameras to furnish the information needed for that. A scene when Brill and Dean stop to argue in between trains in a coal yard is questionable. If there were a bunch of bad guys with big guns after me, I think I'd be running and leave the discussion for later. A few other scenes would leave the audience wondering about the logic -- if there were an opportunity to wonder.

The pace is a bit frantic even for an action-adventure film. A little more time spent on characterization would have been welcome, especially with Brill and Carla. This isn't exactly a thinking-man's film, then, but they don't all have to be.

The theater was packed on the day I attended. Of course the new "Star Wars" trailer shown before the film didn't hurt the turnout. For the first time in memory, people are paying to see a preview. Luckily the movie that follows is almost as entertaining. (The preview, by the way, looks dazzling.)

Think you're being overly-suspicious about those odd noises on your phone? Maybe you are. Or perhaps, as the cut-line for this film says, "It's not paranoia if they're really after you."

{Michael Redman has written this column for over 23 years and he's pretty sure that someone, somewhere is keeping track of everything he says. He's beginning to suspect that it might be secretly located at http://us.imdb.com/M/reviews_by?Michael%20Redman. Conspiracy theories can go to Redman@indepen.com.)

[This appeared in the 11/26/98 "Bloomington Independent", Bloomington, Indiana. Michael Redman can be contacted at Redman@indepen.com]

-- mailto:redman@indepen.com This week's film review at http://www.indepen.com/ Film reviews archive at http://us.imdb.com/M/reviews_by?Michael%20Redman

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