Time: 132 Minutes
Will Smith as Robert Clayton Dean
Gene Hackman as Edward “Brill” Lyle
Jon Voight as NSA Department Head Thomas Brian Reynolds
Regina King as Carla Dean
Loren Dean as NSA Agent Hicks
Jake Busey as Krug
Barry Pepper as NSA Agent David Pratt
Director: Tony Scott
A videotape containing footage of congressman Phil Hammersley’s murder is planted on a lawyer, Robert Dean. Government operatives, who are trying to retrieve the evidence, target him.
Tony Scott is known for making lots of action thrillers, and Enemy of the State just might be one of his best.
Enemy of the State is consistently entertaining throughout, with an intriguing story. The stakes are relatively realistic, and the tensions is sustained from beginning to end, as there is a constant feeling of threat. That is helped by a fast pace which keeps the plot constantly moving. It almost feels like the paranoia, conspiracy and political thrillers of the 70s, but mixed with a bombastic Jerry Bruckheimer action flick. With it being about government surveillance, the film has actually aged pretty well. It is kind of funny how it reads like a post 9/11 and Patriot Act movie, but it was released back in 1998, so everything involving the NSA and future US government activities in the 2000s were almost predicted. The plot gets ridiculous at points, but it was entertaining enough that I could easily roll with it. In terms of flaws, it is a little long, and the narrative could get needlessly convoluted at times. Also, there’s some unnecessary subplot where Will Smith’s character’s wife believed that he cheated on her, and while it’s a fairly minor issue, it gets resolved so quickly that it felt like its only there to pad out the runtime.
The movie has an impressive cast. Will Smith is really good in the lead role; if I have this correct, this is one of his earliest ‘dramatic’ roles of his. He sells his character’s confusion and desperation from the situation he’s landed in, but also the humour and charisma. Gene Hackman is another big name, only making his first appearance a considerable way into the movie. He is great though, and the movie really picks up when he enters the film. He is perfectly suited as a paranoid ex-NSA operative, and the scenes between him and Smith are particularly great. Jon Voight is also effective as the villain. However, not everyone has good parts. Some notable names have relatively small parts like Tom Sizemore, Phillip Baker Hall, Gabriel Byrne, Regina King and Lisa Bonet have pretty thankless roles.
You can tell from the opening scene that this is a Tony Scott film, his style is very much on display. There is this frenetic energy throughout, and the fast paced editing really suits this movie. The editing and cinematography help to convey the feeling that everyone’s actions are being viewed. Unsurprisingly, Scott again delivers some exhilarating and entertaining action scenes. The score from Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams really fits the movie, especially in the action and chase scenes.
Enemy of the State isn’t without its issues, mostly with some of the writing and characters. However, it’s a solid political and espionage action thriller that was both of its time and ahead of its time. The actors (especially Will Smith and Gene Hackman) are really good, the plot is intriguing and riveting, and Tony Scott’s great direction made it even better. Well worth checking out.