Eye For Film >> Movies >> Enemy Of The State (1998) Film Review
Enemy Of The State
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
The classic ingredients are here and Tony Scott mixes them with a steady hand. You can't get enough of a good chase movie when the creative team is serious. A paranoid, who-can-I-trust, conspiracy theoretic plot cuts deep into the soft flesh of chaos fear.
Remember The Conversation with Gene Hackman, Three Days Of The Condor with Robert Redford, Mercury Rising with Bruce Willis? There's a bit of them all in this and a whole lot of something else called entertainment. Will Smith, in his first solo star role, proves he doesn't need a 10ft alien, or pock-marked straight man, to bounce off. He has the look (is that hair painted on?) and the moves to take action heroism way beyond Nicolas Cage and the muscled mumblers. He has a sense of humour which makes pecs power look posey.
Put simply, this is a tape story, with fiendishly complex surveillance gear in the bad boys' arsenal and a quicksilver legal brain, plus Gene Hackman as a renegade government agent, on the side of the angels, not that Robert Clayton Dean (Smith) is angelic - he defends mobsters and has a thing going with a Mafia boss (Tom Sizemore). The videotape in question should have concerned itself with the movement of ducks on a lake, but unintentionally recorded the murder of a congressman instead.
The wildlife ranger, whose job it is to change the tapes on the camera in the lakeside hide, knows he has serious evidence and so copies onto a disk, which he hides in the back of a Gameboy just as the baddies are breaking down his door. Exit ranger out the window, followed by a phalanx of hitmen. During the chase, the Gameboy-plus-disc is slipped into Dean's carrier bag, as he choses nice-but-naughty undies in an up-market lingerie store for Mrs D (Regina King). After that, his life is toast.
The bad people belong to NSA (National Security Agency), a hypersecretive government organisation, specialising in information technology for the purpose of defence-of-the-realm (e.g. spying). Because they have the equipment, they know everything and Scott loves to show off toys. Dean doesn't understand why things are falling apart, or why flat-topped Special Service types follow him in fast cars. It takes time to make sense of the murder, or why he is implicated because of the tape, which he hasn't found yet.
If you like thrillers high roasted, this will keep you awake. It has pace and individuality and Hackman in French Connection mode (small role). Jon Voight, as the icy villain, is controlled and deadly. Why complain if the streets are still mean and the killers have clean faces? Smith is the opposite of Tom Cruise. He's tall and odd-looking, human and fallible, which brings him closer to you and I.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001