Did you ever have the feeling someone was watching you? The atmosphere of paranoia is rampant in "Enemy of the State" as it takes this notion to the extreme. It's a high-tech, high-energy version of "The Wrong Man" or "North By Northwest" for the present day, although it contains little of the subtlety or grace of Hitchcock's films. However, "Enemy of the State" is even more topical and timely now than when it was released in 1998, given its questions and concerns about the government's right to spy on its own citizenry and compromise the public's right to privacy. Then as now, the government insists that its spying is in the interests of national security and that it has nothing but the public's welfare in mind.
Despite these pressing issues, the moviemakers soon lose interest in the philosophical dilemma of government surveillance and quickly begin exaggerating the plot action well out of proportion to the ethical questions involved. In other words, the movie takes the serious issue of Big Brother monitoring us and turns it into typical Hollywood hokum. Yet, as standard conspiracy films go, this one is a cut above the rest thanks to the nonstop forward thrust provided by director Tony Scott ("Top Gun," "Crimson Tide," "Man on Fire"). "Enemy of the State" is a respectable action adventure, and despite (or because of) about eight more minutes added to an already lengthy story line in this new Unrated Extended Edition, the film remains a taut, fast-paced thriller.
Will Smith stars as a Washington attorney, Robert Clayton Dean, a fellow who inadvertently gets passed a video that the National Security Agency wants very badly. Why? Because the tape confirms that the NSA had a hand in the murder of a U.S. senator. With every possible surveillance gadget at their disposal, the Agency goes after Dean with a vengeance, planting bugs all over his house, his clothes, and his possessions, and the Agency begins to track his every move with cameras, microphones, and satellites in an effort to get the tape back. Before long, the Agency team has Dean's wife convinced that her husband is unfaithful, they've canceled his credit cards, lost him his job, and discredited his life. By then everyone is after him. The question, then, is when Dean is going to catch on and begin to fight back.
His only assistance comes from a former Agency employee, Brill, long since gone underground, played by Gene Hackman (shades of "The Conversation"). Together, Dean and Brill try to get back at the Agency that is so intent on continuing its cutthroat ways. There is also a subplot about Dean's involvement with the Mob that seems irrelevant at first but ties in neatly, if too coincidentally, at the end.
I have only the highest regard for Will Smith; he is among the most likable stars around. But he brings some audience preconceptions with him that are hard to shake. He is known mainly for comedy and for his roles in sci-fi fantasy films like "Independence Day," "Men in Black," "Wild, Wild West," and "I, Robot." Admittedly, "Enemy of the State" is close to fantasy, yet it takes itself somewhat more seriously, and it's hard to find Smith's character entirely plausible. Maybe Harrison Ford or Denzel Washington could have pulled it off, but even Mel Gibson had trouble of a similar kind in "Conspiracy Theory." As a result, Smith approaches the role in a light and charming manner, in the Cary Grant mold; at no point in the movie do we actually fear for his character's safety. Occasionally, Smith's Dean is brilliant and resourceful, more than a match for the evil Agency characters pursuing him. At other times he behaves foolishly; like knowing full well that the Agency has everything bugged, he calls his wife, anyway, giving away his location for the sake of the plot. The main thing, though, is that Smith never fails to hold one's attention.
Gene Hackman, on the other hand, is a different story. The moment he enters, the film takes on an added credibility. I mean, have you ever seen a picture that wasn't made better by Hackman's being in it? Whether he's playing a good guy, as here, or a bad guy, he brings a commanding presence and an assured attitude to his portrayal. Unfortunately, Hackman doesn't make his appearance until midway through the film, so the early going is rather the less without him. Then, the second half becomes so improbable that even with Hackman, it's hard to believe. Anyway, beyond the two stars, the other actors are competent but often inconsequential in their roles.
Jon Voight as a corrupt spy chief in the National Security Agency seemed to have settled into a second career as a heavy by this time, playing a highly polished, big-shot villain, the same type he played in "Mission Impossible" and "The Rainmaker." Jason Robards has about five minutes of screen time as the senator who gets offed; Gabriel Byrne gets even less time as a cab driver of dubious intentions. Regina King, Lisa Bonet, Loren Dean, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Jack Black, and Jake Busey, likewise, get small, sometimes thankless parts. But this isn't a film where dramatics count for a lot; it's the action, not the acting, that is the key to the movie's success, and that's where it excels with its constant momentum.
Buena Vista present the film in a wide screen ratio, measuring about 2.18:1 or so across my screen, which more than adequately encompasses the plot's doings, be they high-speed car chases or rooftop pursuits. Colors in this high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer are better defined than in Buena Vista's previous edition, although they continue sometimes on the dark side. Some shots, especially at the beginning of the movie, look a tad soft, but most of the time the image is nicely detailed.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound remains as it was, quite good in terms of its directionality. All five speakers are used convincingly, with the sounds of rain, thunder, automobiles, and the inevitable helicopter flyover all around the listening area. The bass is a touch boomy, but it adds to the excitement.
In addition to the extras BV provided on their first DVD release of this film, they have added two deleted scenes and some Sneak Peeks, but they seem to have come at the expense of losing French as a spoken language. The major bonus items are the featurettes "The Making of Enemy of the State," twenty-nine minutes, and "All Access: The Showdown," thirteen minutes. The Sneak Peeks take a look at "Con Air" and "Crimson Tide," unrated extended editions; "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"; "Annapolis"; "Glory Road"; and "Grey's Anatomy," Season One.
The disc offers English as the only spoken-language choice, and English captions for the hearing impaired. A mere ten scene selections, a chapter insert, a theatrical trailer, and a handsome, metal-foil slipcover round out the extras.
I suppose it's easy to criticize "Enemy of the State" on the basis of what one had hoped the film might have been. For instance, I had hoped for a more serious study of government's ever more intrusive nose in the business of private citizens. Instead, I got a fairly routine action yarn, with a disappointingly Hollywood ending. No matter. The film is an action adventure first and foremost, and once we absorb that notion, "Enemy of the State" turns into a satisfying thriller.
Whether the added eight minutes do the film any good, I couldn't tell. The BV folks give us no clues where or when the additional footage comes into play. It doesn't seem to do any harm, though, and the new edition's video quality is better than ever.