Extended DVD



Enemy of the State (1998)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“It's not paranoia if they're really after you.”

This film, made during a prior political regime, remains extremely relevant for Americans. I believe as long as governments exist it will remain relevant. The technology highlighted by the movie: computers, satellite networks and even surveillance gear has become widely prevalent and mostly available to anyone. However, the legal ability to monitor the private lives of people in every walk of life belongs only to the State. The consequences of that monopoly of power echo through our society and this film.

Considering the intricate plot, the highly visual nature of many of the scenes and also the strong possibilities of inadvertent spoilers, I decided to not include my usual short narrative describing opening scenes from this movie. Instead I will attempt a more general description of the storyline.

Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) makes his living as a lawyer in the field of labor relations. His wife Carla (Regina King), also an attorney, works for the ACLU. They live a reasonably settled life in the greater Washington DC area with their young son Eric. In his labor relations work Dean often uses a secretive investigator 'Brill' (Gene Hackman) who works through an intermediary Rachel F. Banks (Lisa Bonet). Robert Dean and Rachel Banks have “history.”

Also in the DC area the US Congress works on legislation. The federal government's executive branch, which supposedly enforces congressional  legislation, also has its headquarters in DC. All three branches of the federal government have a permanent component not subject to election. However, the executive's “permanent government” -- or civil service -- measures larger than the other branch's comparable components.

The National Security Agency (NSA) comprises part of that segment of the federal executive branch "permanent government" charged with intelligence gathering. As its name implies, the NSA supposedly works to protect the nation's security. Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight) works for the NSA. Reynolds has great zeal about expanding the ability of the NSA to “protect” the USA. His zeal extends to lobbying Congress to expand the NSA's power. Mr. Reynolds does not always stay within normal lobbying rules.

Through a series of events that would take a very long time to describe with words, but happens very quickly in this extremely fast moving film, Robert Dean comes into possession of an item which shows Reynolds doing things quite outside the legal purview (at least in 1998, perhaps not now) of the NSA. Mr. Dean doesn't know he possesses this evidence. However, Reynolds suspects he does and his team of investigators begin pursuit -- led by legmen Det. David Pratt (Barry Pepper) and Det. John Bingham (Ian Hart); but also technical types: Jamie Williams (Jamie Kennedy) and Fiedler (Jack Black); as well as thugs: Krug (Jake Busey) and Jones (Scott Caan). As NSA staff line up the massive power of the federal government against Robert Dean, his life begins to crumble.

From the beginning until the very end this film moves at a extremely fast pace. Action with special effects dominate in this movie. From high speed chases to climbing the sides of buildings, Will Smith excels as an action hero. Likewise, veteran Oscar winner Gene Hackman does a great job as the technophilic hermit 'Brill.' Jon Voight's federal bureaucrat also hits the bullseye. In addition, this movie features Jason Robards and Tom Sizemore doing great jobs in smaller uncredited roles.

With current events showing the rush toward the Security State increasing almost daily, this movie's relevance will only increase. However, like the somewhat similar Dean Koontz book Dark Rivers of the Heart, I think you may be pleased with the ending of Enemy of the State.

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