Enemy of the State
1998, R, 127 min. Directed by Tony Scott. Starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Barry Pepper, Jake Busey, Gabriel Byrne, Lisa Bonet, Jason Lee, James Le Gros, Jack Black.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 20, 1998
Love him or hate him, Tony Scott only steals from the best. Enemy of the State is littered with echoes of previous thrillers -- everything from The Conversation to The Parallax View and from The In-Laws to Scott's own True Romance. Instead of coming off as shameless plundering, however, Scott, debuting director of photography Dan Mindel, and writer David Marconi (The Harvest) have woven a kicky, knockout thriller that ingeniously taps into the current climate of paranoia surrounding personal privacy in the Information Age. It's a conspiracy theorist's wet dream, and one that's likely to kickstart any number of spirited, after-show discussions on such topics as the resuscitated Communications Decency Act and other hot-button cyber-topics. Smith plays suave Washington, D.C. union attorney Robert Clayton Dean, who finds himself the target of a massive and deadly smear campaign by the National Security Administration when he unwittingly comes into possession of crucial evidence against State Department agent Brian Reynolds. Unaware that his every movement, conversation, and private moment is being surreptitiously tracked and recorded by Reynolds' rogue team of techies (led by a smarmy Jack Black, far afield from his Tenacious D comedy antics), the innocent, naive Dean desperately searches for a way to fight back, and eventually finds one in the mysterious spook Brill (Hackman, essentially updating his role from Coppola's aforementioned The Conversation). Since this is the fifth pairing of Scott with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the requisite action is never far away -- essentially the film is one huge, extended chase sequence -- but for all its rapid-fire editing and ominous dialogue, Enemy of the State longs to be more cerebral than the average explode-a-thon. In many ways it succeeds, mostly due to the impossibly charming performance by Smith and Hackman's bulldog acting chops. There are functioning ideas amongst all the relentless muzzle-flash, and though much of the story's “logic” can only charitably be called “fuzzy,” the film still aches to be taken seriously. Whether or not you'll fall for it depends on how rabid a techno-theorist you are, but Scott and company get an A for effort. Scott has taken to peppering his productions with big names in small parts (remember Brad Pitt in True Romance?) and this is no exception: Byrne, Le Gros, and Lee all have cameos of sorts, but none seem to have lived up to his potential. Unlike True Romance, though, Enemy of the State boasts precious little comedy -- it's a thriller straight through to its sleek, millennial-fever heart, an onrushing, giddily paranoiac roller-coaster ride with bad brakes, clever dialogue, and a reach that only occasionally exceeds its grasp.