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Enemy of the State

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Enemy of the State

Starring: Will Smith, Gene Hackman
Director: Tony Scott
Rated: R
RunTime: 128 Minutes
Release Date: January 1998
Genres: Action, Suspense

Review by Greg King
4 stars out of 4

In the wake of the Watergate scandal of the '70's, Hollywood produced a number of first rate paranoid conspiracy thrillers. Films such as The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), and Three Days Of The Condor (1975), etc, called into question the government's integrity and accountability, and astutely tapped into the mounting sense of public disillusionment with officialdom. Enemy Of The State combines the best elements of these into the formula of a gripping and exciting high tech chase thriller.

The film also raises some disturbing questions about the use and blatant abuse of power by government agencies and the covert erosion of democracy. Writer David Marconi (who recently collaborated on the Mission: Impossible sequel) provides plenty of insight into the devious, high tech world of espionage. This polished, taut and unsettling thriller from gun producer Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock, Armageddon, etc) and director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide, etc) is a welcome addition to the genre. With Scott at the helm though, the emphasis is definitely on heart stopping action, and there is plenty of that.

The film kicks into gear when ambitious NSA administrator Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) murders a congressman (an unbilled Jason Robards) who opposes legislation that will increase the powers of the omnipresent agency to spy on private citizens. Unfortunately, the murder is captured on film by an environmentalist (Jason Lee), who becomes a target of Reynold's private hit squad.

However, the incriminating film finds its way into the hands of lawyer Robert Dean (Will Smith), who is involved in a nasty case involving heavy weight union thugs. Dean suddenly finds himself pursued by the NSA. His life and reputation destroyed as they set out to discredit him before he can expose the truth. His only hope for survival is the enigmatic Brill (Gene Hackman), an embittered ex- spy, a dinosaur who has largely managed to remain underground for twenty years. Enemy Of The State is the antithesis of the typical buddy formula, and the volatile relationship between Dean and Brill adds to the dangerous situation.

Smith delivers a strong performance as the innocent citizen on the run from government agencies and unsure of whom he can trust. His physically demanding role here is a change of pace from the confident, wise-cracking persona he has projected in recent films. Hackman delivers his usual solid performance, although Brill bears some resemblance to his eavesdropping private eye from The Conversation, although twenty years on, and much more aggressive and willing to take the fight up to his enemies.

Voight relishes this opportunity to play another villain, and is convincingly suave, yet sleazy and sinister at the same time. His private hit squad is played by a cast of hot shot rising young stars, including Barry Pepper (from Saving Private Ryan), Jake Busey, Scott Caan, and Loren Dean (recently seen in Gattaca). Gabriel Byrne contributes a brief cameo, while Tom Sizemore appears uncredited as Pintero, a union thug who plays a crucial role in events.

Scott really knows how to make solid and exciting commercial thrillers, and he is in fine form here. His direction is slick and energetic, and he demonstrates an assured command of the cutting edge technology available to the intelligence community. The numerous exciting chase sequences and narrow escapes are superbly staged, and will have the adrenaline pumping. Scott maintains a punishing pace throughout that will have audiences on the edge of their seats. He has shot much of the action on the streets of Baltimore, bringing a sense of urgency and realism to the material.

Copyright 1998 Greg King

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