ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2004
Thanks to the media establishment that overwhelmingly favours one
side in this year's US presidential contest, most of the world firmly
believes that USA has stopped being the beacon of world's liberty
and is now transforming into Orwellian police-state. All those
disturbing developments are, of course, attributed almost exclusively
to a man who is currently holding office in White House. However,
there are Hollywood films that can remind us that the trends
associated with the phrase "surveillance society" existed even during
Clinton's Golden Age. One of those films is ENEMY OF THE STATE,
1998 thriller directed by Tony Scott.
The plot begins when Republican Congressman Phillip Hammersley
(played by Jason Robards) states that he can't support new bill giving
broad new powers of surveillance to NSA. Thomas Reynolds (played
by Jon Voight), one of America's spy agency's bosses, expresses his
displeasure with such decision by having Congressman assassinated.
All that is of little concern to Robert Clayton Dean (played by Will
Smith), successful Washington lawyer specialised in labour disputes.
However, Zavitz (played by Jason Lee), environmentalist and Dean's
friend from college days, has accidentally taped the murder and had
it sent to Dean before becoming another victim of NSA assassins. The
lawyer is blissfully unaware of the tape but he quickly becomes
target of vicious intimidation campaign - NSA, using the latest
surveillance technology, makes a mess of his life by cancelling his
credit cards and spreading all kinds of vicious rumours. The only one
willing to help Dean is Brill (played by Gene Hackman), old
surveillance expert who spent nearly two decades in hiding from his
former government employers.
ENEMY OF THE STATE was produced by Jerry Bruckheimmer
whose name is usually associated with loud and mindless action
spectacles. Therefore, it was tempting to brand ENEMY OF THE
STATE as just another Hollywood "high concept" film that trivialises
serious issue, in this case the eternal dilemma between public
security and private liberty. At first glance, it seems that this film
could be reduced nothing more than the series of chases and fights.
However, Tony Scott, who usually tends to concentrate of those
scenes at the expense of everything else, was obviously attracted to
the possibility to show potentials of modern surveillance technology
in a new way. Ability of American government to monitor and
control the lives of its citizens is displayed in the series awesome
images that tell rather disturbing story. They also underline the point
made by scriptwriter David Marconi in the pauses between action
scenes - modern surveillance technology is a formidable tool that can
protect the public, but it also can be extremely dangerous in the
hands of ruthless individuals embodied by the character of Reynolds.
Those more familiar with American politics and history can notice
few amusing little details. Hollywood, for example, again shows its
pro-Democratic bias by motivating Republican congressman's pro-
liberty stance with the desire to score political points rather than
principle. This shows that Hollywood only few years ago had more
subtlety in the display of its political preferences than now. Character
of Reynolds is made to look very much like Robert McNamarra,
defence secretary infamous both for his bureaucratic arrogance and
role in the Vietnam debacle. Of course, just like all Hollywood
thrillers whose villains are on government's payroll, ENEMY OF THE
STATE unconvincingly puts the whole blame for the abuse of power
on "few rotten eggs", in this case a single bureaucrat, rather than the
Most of the audiences would, of course, care little about filmmakers'
politics. For them ENEMY OF THE STATE is nothing more than an
entertaining two hours of non-stop action. Will Smith, who, at first
glance, looked too charismatic for the role, is surprisingly convincing
in the Hitchcockian role of ordinary man in extraordinary situation.
Additional amusement in this film comes from homage being made
to Hollywood classics. For example, a valid case could be made that
character of Brill is the same character who was the protagonist of
Coppola's THE CONVERSATION. At the end of the film Tony Scott
pays little homage to himself by making a parody version of surreal
gunfight that marked the end of his own TRUE ROMANCE.
Although far from being a genre classic, ENEMY OF THE STATE
deserves recommendation because it satisfies needs of those who
crave for quality entertainment as much as the needs of those who
like some food for thought.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
Review written on October 8th 2004
Dragan Antulov a.k.a. Drax
http://film.purger.com - Filmske recenzije na hrvatskom/Movie Reviews in
http://www.ofcs.org - Online Film Critics Society
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