Enemy of the State Review

Enemy of the State - Movie Review

(2.5 STARS)

Going into this Tony Scott marathon I’ve been on, I had a strong appreciation for both the front end and the back end of the filmography and a lot of question marks in the middle. It was fun, then, to see the transition he made between his two best films, True Romance and Crimson Tide, where I think Scott really found his voice. There were touches of the director I love dating all the way back to 1983’s The Hunger, but I think it was with his 1995 submarine thriller that Scott really found his voice.

So if Crimson Tide was the first modern Tony Scott film, Enemy of the State feels like the most Tony Scott film. From the fast cuts and Dutch angles to the hyper-saturated frames and more, it includes every visual trademark that I’ve come to expect from a Tony Scott film. The score is kinetic, and everyone is always running and shouting.

The film is also about something that carries throughout Scott’s filmography – people watching other people. Here, it’s as nefarious as that could get. Will Smith plays a D.C.-area lawyer named Robert Dean. He’s working on bringing down mafia and enlists the help of an anonymous surveillance expert that he is connected with through an ex-girlfriend, Rachel Banks (Lisa Bonet). But his life gets totally disrupted after a chance encounter in a lingerie shop with a college classmate (Jason Lee), who slips a recording, unbeknownst to Dean, into his bag before he runs out and gets killed in traffic.

The tape turns Dean’s life upside-down despite the fact that he doesn’t even know it exists. On it, we see the murder of a congressman (Jason Robards) by an NSA official named Thomas Bryan Reynolds (Jon Voight) and his fellow blackhats. They want a bill passed through the legislature that will give them sweeping powers to surveil their fellow Americans, and any opponent of the bill is disposable. Only Dean and this tape stand in their way of their crime being untraceable, so they pull out all the stops to get a hold of it. Dean’s credit cards are cancelled. Stories are planted in the paper that claim he’s working for the mob. His house is raided (and bugged). And rumors of infidelity dog his relationship with his wife, Carla (Regina King).

Once he realizes the extent of what’s going on, he decides it’s time to get in touch with the only person he knows whose expertise in surveillance might be able to help him. Through Rachel, he’s able to make contact with a man named Brill (Gene Hackman), and it becomes the two of them against the seemingly limitless power of big brother.

There are very enjoyable and easily digestible sequences throughout Enemy of the State, but they do tend to blur together in a way that left me hollow by the film’s end. Nothing jumps out as one of the great Tony Scott scenes – they’re almost all well-executed but also more or less replacement level.

The film is also waaaaaaaaay too long. Part of that has to do with the film being repetitive. One person runs. Bad guys chase. He meets another guy. They run together. Satellite image, beep boop beep boop, guy in yellow sunglasses. But it also borrows a lot from earlier, better Tony Scott films. The climax is completely lifted from a film I watched a couple weeks ago, and that really brought down any excitement I might have felt otherwise.

It’s definitely fun watching Gene Hackman in a surveillance thriller, though no one should ever make the mistake that this film is on a level with The Conversation. He’s also not nearly on the level that he was in Crimson Tide, but that film was an actor vehicle and this one isn’t. Will Smith is also effective as Dean. This film came out pre-Willennium, right at the actor’s peak, and he’s very much in his sweet spot as a charismatic normal in a very sticky situation. Among the rest of the cast, only Regina King really stands out … because she’s Regina King.

Enemy of the State is probably the first film in this filmography that I probably should like more than I do. It’s right in my wheelhouse, but I just don’t connect with it all that much. Better stuff came before it, and will come later, if you’re looking for some sweet Tony Scott action.

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