Film Review: Enemy of the State

Robleh Wais 9/9/17

This film released in 1998 is interesting from the perspective of film history.  It is not much different from most Hollywood blockbuster genre flicks.  It has all the aspects of a blockbuster, tense chase scenes, a lot of gun play action, violence, and even a little gratuitous sexual hinting.  But, the film has an agenda it’s director and producers want to get across to viewers.  It is preaching at us, and warning of the dangers of government Big Brother like surveillance powers.  In the respect, it is precocious.  Eddie Snowden would be surprised to see a film set in the. Com era broaching this topic.  That is why, as a bit of film history Enemy of the State is worth viewing.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers make little use of their politically charged subject matter.  They turn it into a story about a government rogue official (Jon Voight) against an honest, but arrogant, philandering lawyer (Will Smith), and an agent that has been banned from NSA, (Gene Hackman) with another agenda.  Therein we have a run-and-chase flick, and let me tell you Will Smith outdoes Harrison Ford in the Fugitive 20 times over, when it comes to eluding a technological juggernaut of tracking and surveillance teams. 

The initial sequences are setups for the rest of the film.  We see Jason Robards, a U.S. Senator murdered for not cooperating on pushing through legislation designed to increase government power to spy on American citizens.  Voight is behind the murder and unaware the act has been filmed by a minor character, a nature researcher.  Smith, as Attorney Dean is introduced as a hard-hitting organized crime prosecutor, wrapped up in an investigation of Mafia figures. These sequences as well as a few others are just distracting side stories designed to put Atty Robert Dean (Will Smith) in the spotlight as the subject of an unbelievable watch-and-pursue main plot, simply because he’s been unlucky enough be the recipient of a 3.5 floppy disc (remember those things?) showing the murder of the senator worse Voight’s face on it.  You see, that nature researcher unbeknownst to Atty Dean slipped that floppy disc in his shopping bag, while he was looking for sexy lingerie for his wife.  His wife that oddly enough reminds one of Michelle Obama, and is the weakest performer in the entire movie.  Well, what an excuse for an action-packed shoot-out between opposing sides film   There is our good, smart, and uncatchable Smith, pitted against an orchestrating, evil NSA antagonist, Voight, and the sly, unseen, Hackman all struggling against one another, with a host of monitor-watching trackers, and a technology that is designed to wow audiences.  Much of this film is contrived to make viewers see the extend of government surveillance ability.  After seeing it, a viewer may well wonder if Uncle Sam can’t see them on the toilet seat.  And to a degree, that’s the preaching part of this film, the director/producer wants to plant in our minds that Big Brother is watching you and in no kind, benevolent way either.  That may be the political statement implied in this film, but in the main it really is just a shoot-em up, bang-bang, fight to the finish action thriller to use a few clichés.  In this respect, they do what all Hollywood films in the genre do, turn their leading man into a demi-god.  I mean, hey, a couch potato lawyer becomes a man that can run like the wind, strip down to his underwear, outsmart satellite backed trackers with 8, different devices on his person, and make it back home to talk to his docile wife, with the help of another demi-god accomplice (Hackman), just to fight another day! I mean what?  Did they just try to pull that on an audience?  Yes, indeed they did.  And this isn’t the first film Smithy baby has been casted in this kind of role.  His agent gets him very flattering roles it seems.  Very much like Eddie Murphy did in the 1980s, he’s always the winner, smart, suave, able to handle any adversity, makes for a very boring performance. And hell, if the software/hardware can’t nab one lawyer mind you, they should get their money back from the company that made it in 1998.  What an odd coincidence that Jon Voight the NSA official should be born 9/11/40, huh?  I don’t think a connection between the events of 9/11/2001 and his birthday should be made, however.

Well, the film sinks further into mediocrity, when the director brings in Hackman as the former NSA agent who was forced out of the agency for his war times activities in Iran.  Now, we have two unbeatable smart-guys on the run! All directing follows the formula from here on out.  Keep up the chase, have a lot of action thrown in, blow-up something, wreck a few cars.  In between make a few points about how all-powerful government is watching everybody and sage Hackman knows how to outsmart the all-knowing government monkeys, ‘cause Gene baby is smarter than them.  Same formula they applied to Smith, hmmm…

But, the director knows it’s got to end somewhere.  Now, what in the formula book of Hollywood blockbusters can do that?  His light bulb goes off. Yes you can have the bad guys set against each other! He says…we have our stereotypical Italian mobster, why not wrap it up by pitting them against the corrupt government officials through our brilliant Atty Dean character? 

Not to mention they kill off minor characters like Lisa Bonet, Smith’s love interest.  Her acting was so bad, she deserved to be whacked if you ask me!  The same can be said for his wife, her role was cookie cut as the angry black woman wife character.  This film was such a self-destructing project, that I estimate at least 3 scenes could have been cut and the film budget would have saved a few million. Let’s see uh well….the Victoria Secret scene, was pure garbage, it could have been cut, ….uh,….oh yeah…the murder scene with Will Smith’s forced sorrow for Lisa Bonet, cut that one, pure junk, and lord knows cut the animated satellite scenes, they were just cues that the next thing is a Birdseye views of city streets… none of these aspects of the picture were very important to the plot movement or of any interest.

 

As final a word this film was not highbrow cinema, full of thought-provoking dialogue and themes, but as a historical precursor to what amazingly the U.S. government is doing today, it’s quite surprising.  Still, no thumbs up on content from me.  One other thing, this film did very little to give women roles with character and depth, that’s for sure.  But, what can you expect from a flick shot in 1998.