Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller Enemy of the State was the first film I ever bought on DVD. Though that disc has since gone walkabout, I remember going into my local Woolworths to buy a different film (an 18 Certificate whose title I can’t remember) but was told by the lady on the checkout that I didn’t look 18 and had to choose another one. Being around 14 I panicked and grabbed Enemy of the State, attracted by the picture of that guy from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air on the cover. I remember enjoying the film all those years ago and marvelling at how modern it was. Unfortunately it hasn’t aged particularly well.
Will Smith plays D.C. Lawyer Robert Dean who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy and high profile assassination following a chance meeting with an old acquaintance from college. Without knowing it, Dean takes into his possession a video tape containing footage of the murder and is tracked by rogue NSA official Thomas Roberts (Jon Voight). With nowhere else to turn, Dean tracks down a shady communications expert called Brill (Gene Hackman) with the hope that he can clear up the mess he finds himself in.
Enemy of the State is a solid thriller and the story isn’t bad but it’s not great either. It features a technology heavy script which was always bound to date poorly. Mobile phones, computers, satellites and other gadgets and gizmos all look terribly dated but there are other aspects of the film which feel very fresh. There’s a lot of talk in the movie about how much of a person’s life the Government can view and the film suggests that the NSA is capable of tracking your every movement and hack into your calls and email. In truth this wasn’t the case back in the late 90s but then 9/11 happened and the world changed. Since The Patriot Act, the American Government has had the technical and legal ability to do just the sort of snooping seen in this film and recent whistle blowing embarrassments have shown not only that it can but that it is. Recent developments have actually helped to keep this film relevant when a lot of its content would otherwise not be.
I recently had issue with the cinematography in Tony Scott’s Man on Fire. I found all the shaky, juddery stuff really put me off the movie and there’s a little of that here but it’s nowhere near as bad. The satellite imagery is a little shaky but most of the ground level camera work is good. It still has that late 90s thriller feel though and it isn’t something I’m fond of. Will Smith’s presence in the movie is surprisingly small. For such a charismatic actor he feels as though he’s struggling to stay afloat in some scenes and the confusion he encounters means that he isn’t able to play his normal cocky, charming Will Smith character. Jon Voight is alright but not really villainous enough and Gene Hackman is fine but has been much better. A problem with Hackman’s performance and the film in general is that it’s impossible to watch the film without thinking about The Conversation. Indeed this film feels like the natural progression of that movie but it’s nowhere near as accomplished. Hackman’s character shares many similarities with the one he plays so brilliantly in Francis Ford Coppola’s thriller and at times this movie feels like a cheap, modernised version of that film. While watching, you can't help but want to be watching The Conversation.
I enjoyed the final few minutes of the film and liked how it tied together two seemingly unrelated strands in a intelligent way. In the end Enemy of the State passes a couple of hours but it’s not the sort of movie I’ll be going back to again. It had been about fourteen years since my last viewing and if I see it’s on TV in another fourteen years I might watch it out of curiosity but there are many better thrillers out there, films that feature better scripts, performances and twists.