a critiQal film review Enemy of the State (1998)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Corrupt National Security Agency official Thomas Reynolds (Voight) has a congressman assassinated to assure the passage of expansive new surveillance legislation. When a videotape of the murder ends up in the hands of Robert Clayton Dean (Smith), a labor lawyer and dedicated family man, he is framed for murder. With the help of ex-intelligence agent Edward "Brill" Lyle (Hackman), Dean attempts to throw Reynolds off his trail and prove his innocence.

525 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 37s)

Back in the 90’s, Will Smith seemed to have a blockbuster hit on his hands with everything he did. Independence Day (1996). Men in Black (1997). Bad Boys (1995). The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (TV). And one more…a surveillance thriller called Enemy of the State.

Having seen Enemy of the State years ago, I remember being impressed by the film back then. So, when I saw it as I perused films to watch, I figured now was a good time to give it a review – especially since several of the last few films I’ve seen (notably Jupiter Ascending (2015) and Inside Out (2015)) have been somewhat disappointing.

So would Enemy of the State still provide the thrills and excitement I’d been hoping for, or has time ravaged the film?

There’s a reason that Will Smith basically owned the 90’s. His choices seemed to be spot on, and really let him showcase what he’s good at – charming viewers, no matter what the situation. His character in Enemy of the State is no different, presenting the viewer with a likeable character from the start. He, as usual, easily pulls the viewer into the storyline, making them care about his character. As the events of the film unfold, the viewer has a vested interest in seeing what happens to him – a must for this type of film.

Gene Hackman also does a great job portraying a surveillance expert whose gone off the grid in Enemy of the State. He’s gruff and kind of a jerk – at least at first – but he’s drawn to helping out Smith’s likable character, which goes a long way to endear him to the viewer. As the film progresses, he may still have that rough exterior, but the viewer will catch glimpses of that heart of gold within – at least when it comes to Smith. The sequences between Hackman and Smith are high points of the film, especially a rooftop sequence that really showcases the acting chops these two have.

The supporting cast is exceptional as well, with a long list of notable names playing bit parts. From Jason Lee (My Name Is Earl (TV)) to Scott Caan (“Hawaii Five-O” (TV)) to recognizable faces like Gabriel Byrne, Barry Pepper, Jack Black and Seth Green, the supporting cast does a great job. It’s especially impressive when the viewer catches these familiar faces in, for the most part, roles they aren’t used to seeing them in – and still enjoying the performances.

The film kicks off with a murder that grabs the viewer’s attention right from the get-go. While the motive behind the murder is hinted at but never really explained (and seems a bit too extreme for the circumstances), that murder sets up the rest of the film nicely. Take that first leap of faith (the murder was a reasonable response for the characters), and the rest of the film falls easily into place. The film garners viewer interest in Smith’s Robert Clayton Dean through a hilariously awkward sequence at a lingerie shop, then leads the viewer through a taut thriller with Dean directly in the cross-hairs of a seemingly all-powerful foe – the NSA.

Enemy of the State combines elements of The Net (1995) and 1984 with director Tony Scott’s signature style, making this a solid thriller from start to finish. With smart performances from an exceptionally well-rounded cast and a gripping storyline, Enemy of the State – like most of Will Smith’s films in the 90’s – will have viewers rooting for Smith’s Robert Clayton Dean throughout. Despite being released nearly 20 years ago, Enemy of the State is just as exciting as it was back in the 90’s, and a film viewers will enjoy even on multiple viewings.

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