Enemy of the State

on November 20, 1998 by Wade Major
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"Enemy of the State" is one of those films where major scene changes are punctuated by superimposed digital readouts showing the hour in military time; where low, ominous rumblings herald the impending assault of men with guns; where people chase each other with impunity through busy streets, back alleys and restaurant kitchens; where testosterone flows like a mountain stream. In short, it's the kind of movie at which producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott excel.
   Reuniting for the first time since "Crimson Tide," Scott and Bruckheimer this time impose their ballistic style on the reliable old paranoid thriller, taking cues from films as diverse as "The Fugitive," "The Conversation," "North by Northwest" and even Wim Wenders' recent arthouse entry, "The End of Violence."
   At the center of the web is Robert Dean (Will Smith) a labor lawyer who becomes the unwitting possessor of an incriminating piece of video showing the assassination of a U.S. congressman by high-ranking National Security Agency (NSA) operatives. The congressman, it seems, stood in the way of legislation intended to increase the use of surveillance equipment in monitoring the populace--breathtakingly sophisticated technology that is brought to bear on Dean as he runs for his life, forced to dodge not only bullets, but cameras, microphones, tracking devices and even spy satellites. Fortunately, he finds a friend in the person of Brill (Gene Hackman), a former NSA communications expert who helps guide him past Big Brother's all-knowing eyes and ears to where he can, hopefully, expose the conspiracy and resume his life.
   Like Ed Zwick's "The Siege," "Enemy of the State" hypothesizes about the lengths to which a government would go in violating civil rights for the sake of national security. Unlike "The Siege," "Enemy of the State" succeeds at integrating its moralizing with populist entertainment. At the same time, Bruckheimer and Scott don't seem overly concerned with serious moralizing. The casting of Hackman in an obvious reprise of his "The Conversation" role, along with a host of celebrity cameos so brief that they scarcely qualify as extras, suggest a more playful attitude with respect to the material than one might ordinarily expect. Thankfully, it is the lack of such overt seriousness that ultimately saves the film from its shortcomings.
   Reco gnizing that audiences are more concerned with thrills than the logical lapses that seem chronically inherent in hyper-technological premises, Scott and Bruckheimer pace the film like a runaway train, with the requisite flashy visuals and percussive soundtrack thrown in for good measure. The cast is generally first-rate, from Smith and Hackman to Jon Voight as their fascistic government nemesis. Between the film's star power and stylistic sizzle, odds are that audiences will have neither the time nor the inclination to focus on plot and credibility holes.
   If nothing else, "Enemy of the State" is timely fare, wisely positioned to capitalize on increasing paranoia about personal privacy as well as public fascination with a video age characterized by television "reality" shows and videotaped beatings--yet another carefully calculated hit for the legacy of Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott. Starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight and Regina King. Directed by Tony Scott. Written by David Marconi. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. A Buena Vista release. Thriller. Rated R for language and violence. Running time: 132 min
Tags: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Tony Scott, David Marconi, Jerry Brukheimer, Buena Vista, Thriller, runaway train, government, assault, guns
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