Enemy Of The State (1998)

Country: United States
Directed by Tony Scott
Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Jason Robards, Regina King, Lisa Bonet, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Ian Hart, Jack Black, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Seth Green, Tom Sizemore, James LeGros, Gabriel Byrne
Music by Harry Gregson-Williams and Trevor Rabin

Yep, another incursion into the noisy violent world of director Tony Scott. In this instance, his hi-tech visual style is appropriate because the story is about surveillance and privacy. Scott’s penchant for grainy and manipulated images, rapid cuts and ramped footage suit a story of this kind and reflect the technology and equipment utilised by the characters throughout this film.

The film begins with Congressman Phillip Hammersley (Jason Robards) pulling up his car next to a lake. He gets out and so does his dog. This is the Congressman’s recreation time and he regularly comes to the lake to walk and play with his dog. On this occasion though, somebody is waiting for him. This somebody happens to be a gentleman named Reynolds (Jon Voight). Reynolds appears to work at the higher levels of the NSA and controls a team of minions who are prepared to do his bidding and unquestionably carry out his orders. Reynolds has met with Hammersley before and has been trying to persuade him to support a particularly invasive surveillance and security bill. Hammersley refuses to support the bill – he sees it as an invasion of privacy. Reynolds has a contingency plan for this. Along for the ride is Pratt (Barry Pepper), one of Reynolds aforementioned minions. As Hammersley walks away angrily towards his car, Pratt walks behind him and injects a hypodermic needle into his neck. Hammersley dies almost instantly, and Reynolds and Pratt stage an accident. Hammersley’s death is made to look like he had a heart attack.

However there is one glitch in Reynolds murderous plot. On the other side of the lake, a conservationist, in a hide, had set up a remote video camera to watch the ducks on the lake. The camera is activated by a motion sensor and it just happened to be pointed in the right direction at the time when the Congressman was killed.

The conservationist, Zavitz (Jason Lee) also happens to be a compueter nerd and conspiracy theorist. Once he checks the recording, he immediately knows what he has, and also realises that he will be in a lot of danger once Reynolds is onto him. What Zavitz doesn’t realise is that they are already on to him and Reynolds minions are standing outside his apartment door. Zavitz barely has time to duplicate the footage when the minions kick in his door. Zavitz escapes out onto the roof and then down onto the street. Reynolds’ men, utilising the latest hi-tech satellite imaging, track his every movement and pursue him relentlessly.

Meanwhile Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) is doing a spot of Christmas shopping and is attempting to buy a surprise gift for his wife – so he finds himself in a lingerie boutique. At that moment, through the back door, Zavitz enters the boutique and quite literally bumps into Dean. The two mn are old acquaintances as they went to college together. They exchange pleasantries, and Dean hand Zavitz his business card. While they are talking Zavitz secretly slides the ‘murder tape’ into one of Dean’s shopping bags.

With Reynolds’ men closing in, Zavitz is quickly on his way, and once back out on the street he steals a bicycle. The evil minions close in and Zavitz is forced to ride down a highway head on into the on coming traffic. As Zavitz tries to cross over into safety, he is collected by a rapidly moving fire engine and killed. The minions search his body but do not find the recording. Instead they find Dean’s business Card.
Robert Clayton Dean is a highflying lawyer. He lives a good life with his wife, Carla (Regina King) and his son. The only blip on his radar is that he had an extra-marital affair with a girl named Rachel Banks (Lisa Bonet). Even though the affair has long since ended, Dean and Banks still keep in contact, as she has a contact named Brill, who supplies specialised and secretive documents that Dean uses from time to time in the course of his job.

Reynolds and his men are a pretty thorough lot, and quickly ascertain that Zavitz must have passed on the recording to Dean, and turn their attention to retrieving the footage from him. This isn’t as easy as it seems, as Dean is unaware that he has the incriminating evidence. Once he refuses to co-operate, Reynolds and his team begin to apply pressure. First they provide his wife with photos of one of his meetings with Rachel Banks. This causes a rift in the marriage. Next they freeze all Dean’s account so he has no access to cash. As more pressure is applied, Dean goes to further extremes to clear his name.

Enemy Of The State has three things going for it. The first, and most obvious is the simplicity in the telling a story about a need for surveillance and access to people’s most private information in the interests of national security, and at the same time showing that power abused. The second thing in Enemy Of The State’s favour is the casting of Gene Hackman as Brill. This character is not new territory for Hackman – he played a similar character in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation – or should I say, you could almost imagine that Hackman’s character from The Conversation, Harry Caul, could grow to become someone like Brill. And the final plus on Enemy Of The State’s ledger is it’s amazing allstar cast. Apart from Smith, Hackman and Voight, in supporting roles there’s such familiar faces as Jack Black, Jason Lee, Seth Green, Scott Caan, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper, Lisa Bonet, Regina King and Ian Hart. There are even cameo appearances by Jason Robards and Gabriel Byrne. This film is jam packed with actors you’ll recognise, some of them in bit parts, but it all adds to the films rich tapestry.

Quite often I come down quite hard on Tony Scott as a director because his films all tend to be the same and he utilises a lot of on screen ‘gimmicks’ to tell his story. Thankfully this is one film where his visual overload style can be given free reign and in fact is entirely appropriate. That being the case, I’d have to say that this is Scott’s most solid directorial achievement. After all that though, remember this film comes from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, so it is loud and lots of things explode. Despite any hints of intelligence in the screenplay, this film was made primarily to entertain, and generally on that level in succeeds.

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