“It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you.” Tony Scott was the director for summer entertainment. From Top Gun, True Romance and even his final film prior to his death, Unstoppable, Tony Scott delivered on giving the audience one hell of an exciting time at the movies. For me, Enemy of the State is his masterpiece. A film that was in many ways ahead of its time and still packs quite a punch over twenty years later. So, after all this time, how does the film hold up? How it is still impactful? And why is this my favorite Tony Scott film?
Enemy of the State is one of those movies that grabs your attention very quickly and once you know what you’re getting involved in, strap in because it’s about to get nuts. The film follows the inner workers of the NSA (National Security Agency) and NSA Official Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) is urging a congressman named Phil Hammersley (Jason Robards) to side with him in passing a new piece of counter-terrorism legislation that would allow the NSA practically unlimited power to spy on citizens of the United States for fear of anyone being a suspected terrorist.
Hammersley doesn’t agree with this new piece of proposed legislation due to the implications of everyone losing their right to privacy. When the meeting is over in the park, Hammersley is murdered by operatives of Reynolds and it staged to look like an accident. Little do they the know that the murder was filmed from across the river in a little box called “the hive” that monitors the migration patterns of birds. I don’t want to give away too much plot details but the tape that filmed the politically motivated murder ends up falling into the hands of a labor lawyer named Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith). He then becomes the target of Reynolds and the NSA operatives working directly for him.
These guys set up an entire operation that is disguised as a STO (Standard Training Op). They tap his phone lines and place these little tracers on his clothing, his watch, his cell phone and even his shoes. He is under twenty-four hour surveillance from the NSA without his knowledge. Now, on the surface this may appear to be a typical chase film where one guy is being chased by several individuals throughout the course of the film but at the very least, Enemy of the State benefits from an intelligent script (thanks to David Marconi), memorable characters and exciting action moments that doesn’t enter the over-the-top formula.
One of the great things about the film is the superb casting. With the actors already aforementioned we also include Gene Hackman, Regina King, Jack Black, Tom Sizemore, Barry Pepper, Jake Busey and even Seth Green. I won’t mention their specific roles but I have to mention the always wonderful Gene Hackman. The chemistry between him and Will Smith is another addition to the film. Besides all the action and the chase scenes, I did become very involved and interested in the plot. I found it fascinating at the lengths these NSA operatives will go to get what they want. In many respects, this movie is an early predictor that followed in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Patriot Act. If you’re also thinking of when Edward Snowden came forward, then you would be correct as well. A lot of movie critics and lovers of film also bring up the correlation of this film and The Conversation that also starred Gene Hackman back in 1974, another superb that sort of deals with the same underlying topics expressed in Enemy of the State.
As I said before, Tony Scott is a director that made exciting and very entertaining movies and Enemy of the State is no exception. Not only is the film fast-paced but it’s very smart in the questions that it raises regarding security, personal privacy and the power of the Federal Government. I love watching Will Smith look thoroughly confused as he doesn’t know why his life is turning upside. This is perhaps one of my favorite performances of Smith during his acting career. Some people have labeled this a “B movie” which I object strongly to. For some it may not be the best of Tony Scott’s career but for myself, I watch this movie at least once a year and still love it twenty years on.
Score 5 out of 5
Enemy of the State is not just an slam-bang action thriller but also quite a scary one when you think about it. What if someone was spying on you and following your every move without your knowledge? It raises important questions while being a movie that is entertaining, funny and exciting all at the same time. It was a sad day when Tony Scott died, but his movies will keep his name alive and Enemy of the State is a movie that anyone can enjoy. If you’re not impressed with the story as I am, then perhaps the amazing cast can sway you towards my side.
I challenge you to watch this movie now knowing about the Patriot Act and Edward Snowden, I’m sure you’ll see plenty of similarities but remember this was released in 1998, years prior to 9/11 happening. Enemy of the State is not just a great action movie but that you should still be talked about after all these years. For one thing, it’s aged very well in terms of knowledge and in keeping with everything we loved and recall from the nineties.