Aug 26, 2011

[Movies] Enemy of the State (1998)

Enemy of the State (1998)I've never been a big Will Smith fan.

It's probably because I've never really taken to his particular style of acting, which is essentially the same regardless of what movie or TV show he's been cast in. And considering that we've seen him in so many different movie genres, you can imagine that his wisecracking tough guy routine doesn't always work with every single role he has played and is bound to play in the future.

However he also seems to have a knack for getting cast in movies with a science fiction slant to things. Just look at how his body of work includes the Men in Black movies and even I, Robot. Thus despite my hesitations when it comes to Will Smith movies, I know that I'll inevitably end up catching him here or there as directors like to put him in action-related movies. As of late he's been really pushing the drama side, and I fully endorse him exploring that if he leaves me alone in my science fiction world.

While this movie isn't precisely science fiction, it did feature what a lot of people assumed to be a speculative premise on the surveillance capabilities of the government. Of course such capabilities are about as accurate as the alien technology in Independence Day, despite that the movie still had a fun story to tell and an interesting way of presenting it.

I had been putting off seeing this movie for reasons unknown to me. But finally my partner had me sit down and watch it, and that wasn't too bad an experience.

Enemy of the State is a 1998 spy thriller, which I won't tag as being science fiction since a lot of the technology involved is just impossible. If anything, the real focus is the story at its core, but I digress from my intro. The movie was directed by Tony Scott with a screenplay by David Marconi.

US Congressman Phil Hammersley (Jason Robards) is assassinated by NSA official Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) in order to ensure the passing of new legislation aimed at dramatically expanding the surveillance powers of the US government in the interests of national security. A wildlife researcher / bird watched named Daniel Zavitz (Jason Lee) happens to record the killing via a hidden camera meant to record the behaviors of birds in the area. This naturally makes him a target and eventually a group of NSA agents are sent to acquire the video and ensure the silence of Zavitz. Danial barely manages to slip the video cartridge into the shopping bags of his old college friend Robert Dean (Will Smith) during a chance encounter. But before Dean can figure out what has Daniel so stressed, Zavitz is accidentally killed in a traffic accident during the NSA pursuit.

Will SmithCover of Will SmithUnable to locate the video on Zavitz, Reynolds NSA group focuses all of its efforts on Dean. They set up full surveillance on his home and on Dean himself under the guise of all this being a training mission as Robert starts to find the pieces of his life beginning to fall apart due to trumped up allegations also generated by the NSA. Thus Robert now finds himself on the run as he tries to figure out why he's been targeted and how he can possible regain his normal life.

Admittedly the premise of the movie was fairly interesting if a tad convoluted. Then again, what else can one expect from a spy movie, right? They had to set up the elaborate plot in order to give us something to play around as viewers. But instead making the plot the central mystery of the movie, we're instead made to focus on Robert Dean's continued attempts at escape beyond anything else. I think I would have slightly preferred the former instead of how the story actually turned out, but that's just me.

Given this, the movie really is about indulgence in how far the government might be able to push surveillance technology if given enough motivation to do so. Thus we get all sorts of different ways to tap into telephones, bugs that can fit in shoes and of course a ridiculous about of insanely accurate satellite coverage all geared towards following a single guy. It's quite a rush on its on and it does give the movie a unique entertainment value but of course such adventuring is technically impossible. Still, let's forgive this bit.

Eventually Dean encounters the character of Edward Lyle (Gene Hackman), who seems to know a thing or two about espionage methods himself. He's a quirky character that didn't necessarily feel all that essential to the story apart from being Dean's deus-ex-machina solution in terms of being able to save him from his own stupidity. To be fair, this was definitely the kind of role we enjoy seeing Gene Hackman in, even if it is a bit of a trope given his career. He's eccentric but not insane and he's very good at what he does, although what that is will be revealed towards the latter segment of the movie.

At times, the movie feels like one long chase sequence broken with odd moments of geek relief as provided by the likes of Jack Black and Seth Green. In this regard it does get a little tiring at times and reminds you that this is all that the movie has going for it. Still, the way the tension is created is pretty impressive and in that regard I suppose it's worth the popcorn.

Enemy of the State is all about taking the chase aspect of a spy movie and extending it into a full 2+ hour feature. It may be a little light on true plot or even realistic characters, but it does make up for it in pulse-racing action. Thus I can only really give it 3 zany ways they manage to bug a location in record time through the powers of a montage out of 5.

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