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Enemy of the State (Unrated Extended Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Enemy of the State (Unrated Extended Edition)

Touchstone Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Will Smith, Gene Hackman
theatrical release year: 1998
DVD release year: 2006
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

“Enemy of the State” explores the loaded question: Does it do more harm than good when a government is enabled to spy on its own citizens? It’s an especially pertinent query right now in our post 9/11 world, because there’s not one American who wants to live through another Twin Towers disaster ever again. Most Americans likely expect their government to “smoke out the enemy,” to borrow a Bush-ism, to thwart terrorists from having their way. It’s an especially urgent issue in light of Gen. Michael Hayden’s CIA directorship hearings. Hayden is the former head of the National Security Agency, which was reported to have collected phone records for tens of millions of Americans. Hayden’s activities, and the public’s alarmed reaction to them, underscore the difficulties in balancing civil liberties with efforts to protect citizens from terrorist attacks.

This relatively recent film ups the ante considerably, however, beyond merely collecting phone records. The NSA is portrayed utilizing satellite surveillance technology to watch people’s every movement. Its spy ware is aided by bugging devices that also hear everything a person says. The only privacy left, as one character says, is what’s inside your head. And who knows, such restless information hounds would no doubt gladly get inside your noggin if they only could.

All of this powerful information gathering technology is focused on catching one innocent guy in this story; a man who happens to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time. That innocent guy is played excellently by Will Smith. Smith’s character, Robert Clayton Dean, is an attorney who—although he may have a few unsavory clients—is not a bad person. Purely by chance, a man fleeing the NSA puts an incriminating video—one that captures the NSA in the act of killing a political enemy—into his shopping bag. Suddenly Dean is on the NSA’s most wanted list and on the run without knowing why.

This film’s director, Tony Scott, whose prior work also includes “Crimson Tide” and “Top Gun,” is skilled at directing action thrillers and shows it here. This is also a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production, which is a team noted for its smash bang films. It’s an exemplary cinematic example of the action genre, because it jumps right into the fury from the very get-go—much like a sports car that accelerates up to a high speed in seconds flat. There are a plenty of cool electronic gadgets showcased throughout this movie, but instead of wasting valuable screen time describing them, this film wisely chooses to let the characters explain them as they go, as they’re using them, instead. Similarly, rather than introducing the NSA with a lot of dull background information, the cameras capture this group in action—in this instance evil action—instead. It doesn’t take long for viewers to realize that NSA head Thomas Bryan Reynolds, played by Jon Voight, is up to no good. The NSA is comprised of thugs that hit the streets in search of Dean, as well as information gatherers, which are behind-the-scenes guys like Jack Black’s hairy-women-loving Fiedler character.

The sound is also top notch. Although the musical score is not particularly memorable, it is also not something that distracts from the tension presented on-screen. It only heightens it, instead.

Dean’s on-screen troubles can be compared to the fate Dan Aykroyd’s character faced in the comedy “Trading Places.” When the NSA begins its pursuit of Dean, they close out his credit card accounts, frame him in a sex scandal that jeopardizes his marriage, and leak information that causes his law firm partner bosses to believe he’s in bed with the mob, thus putting him out of a job. His life skills are put to the ultimate test, as we the viewers watch how he’ll respond after all of his privileges and perks have been suddenly taken away.

Dean would have been completely hopeless in his plight, had he not eventually hooked up with the crusty Edward ‘Brill’ Lyle (Gene Hackman). Brill, as he is referred to in the film, is a former NSA official who is on the outs with his former employer. After losing his NSA job, this Brill became a surveillance tech guy for hire. Brill’s relationship with Dean begins relatively innocently as an information source for one of his law cases. Dean only knows of Brill through his connection, and former lover, Rachel Banks (Lisa Bonet). Dean is warned by Banks against seeking out the very private Brill, because he’s a mean underground crime figure that would likely do him harm if they ever met in person. But because Dean hasn’t a clue as to why his life has been turned upside down, he has no choice but to suspect that Brill is somehow behind his unforeseen troubles. Brill, of course, is not the source of Dean’s ills, but has the know-how to keep the NSA off Dean’s tail. Furthermore, his grudge against his former bosses gives him reason to form an alliance against the NSA with Dean.

In another twist similar to “Trading Places,” Brill and Dean hatch a plan to give Reynolds and one of his cronies a little bit of their own medicine. Brill bugs Reynolds’ house, as well as a congressmen’s hotel room, in order to get their attention and distract them from chasing Dean. It is with great glee that Brill and Dean collaborate to eek out this gratifying revenge.

Had Dean been a true evildoer, such as a terrorist, the NSA’s actions would have been praised and justified. He’s not a threat to the United States, however. In this case, he’s a hindrance to the power-hungry NSA, instead. It brings us back to considering the consequences of giving a government agency spying powers. If the government is allowed to peek into private citizens’ private lives, who’s going to assure the integrity of such official intrusions? Such acts can easily turn into instances of unrestricted power, because innocent lives are many times ruined in this process of seeking out bad guys at all costs.

“Enemy Of The State” can be enjoyed on several levels. As an action movie, this film is a fast-paced romp, featuring two great chase scenes—one at the beginning and another at the end. But it’s also an issue film, sparklingly disguised as an action movie. Will Smith is perfectly cast as a likeable guy, caught in the web of a hated machine, so even if you don’t care about the issues it raises, it’s nevertheless an entertaining ride. Best of all, this eye-catching visual vehicle is utilized to make you think about the right of privacy, a heavy concept indeed. But instead of a dry C-SPAN debate, this film throws nonstop action onto the screen to help make its points.

The best bonus feature here is “The Making Of Enemy Of The State,” which helps put the storyline into contemporary perspective. If the whole right of privacy debate fascinates you, you’ll also want to take a look at this bonus section.

more details
sound format: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
aspect ratio: Widescreen (2.35:1 – Enhanced for 16X9 Televisions
special features: The making of Enemy Of The State; All access: “The Showdown”; Theatrical Trailer; Deleted Scenes
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
front speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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