Enemy of the State (1998)

reviewed by
Dragan Antulov

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

system itself.

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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