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Matt's Enemy of the State Review

Updated on October 12, 2014

Time and time again, Tony Scott has proven adept at making action movies that balance great action sequences with storyline and characterization.  Like most good directors, almost all of his movies are good, and a few of his films are nothing short of amazing.  Enemy of the State is Tony Scott at his best.  The cool thing about Enemy of the State is, not only has it withstood the test of time very well, the prevalent issues in the film, such as privacy and telecommunications, have become more relevant with the passing years.  The other thing I’d like to mention is how grossly underrated and overlooked this movie is.  With sharp writing, amazing action set-pieces and uncommonly strong performances from a cast featuring a shocking number of familiar faces, it’s hard to imagine why this film went largely unnoticed when it was released, and has now been largely forgotten.

Observations

- The writing in this film is so far above the curve for movies of the action genre, it’s hard to praise it enough. The script is intelligent, sharp-witted, and emotional. There is not a single scene unnecessary, nor line of dialogue wasted. At the end of the film, all of the plotlines and the subplots of the movie converge in a marvelous spider-web so ingenious it’s beyond entertainment, its art.

- For a technological thriller, Enemy of the State has aged surprisingly well. Lots of computers, microchips and other technology onscreen, but even after 13 years, the technology in the film has yet to make Enemy of the State look vintage or retro. It has stood the test of time.

- The Conversation is a Francis Ford Coppola film, also starring Gene Hackman, which could serve as a companion piece to this film for those who are interested. The conversation also concerns telecommunication, but takes a more art house approach to the subject matter – as opposed to Enemy of the State, which is a more visceral experience.

- As I mentioned in the introduction, this film is very concerned with issues of privacy and telecommunications. It portrays a somewhat heightened reality that nevertheless raises some very legitimate questions about our society. How much surveillance does the government need access to in order to protect us as citizens? How do we determine whose phone to tap, and whose not to?

- I love the paranoid atmosphere and the really frenetic manner in which the action sequences are presented. In fact, I think an argument could be made that the Jason Bourne movies owe Enemy of the State a certain debt – particularly Supremacy and Ultimatum.

- Director’s Cut: Just a short aside, it’s come to my attention that a director’s cut of Enemy of the State was released. It’s a rare occasion that I would recommend avoiding the director’s cut of a film, but in this case, nothing was added to the director’s cut that made the movie any better. If anything, I can only imagine that the additional scenes would’ve disrupted the momentum of the movie, which in this case is not good. AVOID the director’s cut, the theatrical cut is perfect as is.

Performances

- Will Smith turns in a hard-hitting performance with a level of seriousness and effective intensity that, in 1998, I wouldn’t have expected from him. He’s come a long way since then, going from being strictly comedic, to doing more than one serious role. It’s only a matter of time till he finally wins an Oscar. He reigns in his trademark boyish “Will Smith” charm and delivers possibly the most mature performance of his career up to that point. Don’t forget that the two movies that he was most known for at that point, were Independence Day and Men in Black. This was a huge and welcome departure for him.

- What can one say about Gene Hackman? The man has had a long and varied career. There is no measure to the amount of gravitas his very presence can add to a film. Enemy of the State is no exception, he’s simply brilliant.

- Jon Voight is another actor whose bio speaks for itself. I have a particular liking for him as a villain, and this is my favorite performance of his. He is fantastically diabolical.

- Tom Sizemore is just awesome as a local gangster who comes into conflict with Will Smith’s character. He’s onscreen for maybe 10 minutes total, and every word out of his mouth is pure gold.

- Enemy of the State has an awesome ensemble of recognizable actors and actresses, all turning in strong performances, look for: Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Barry Pepper, Gabriel Byrne, Jack Black, Jamie Kennedy, Philip Baker Hall, and Seth Green.

Music, Cinematography and Special Effects

- The soundtrack to Enemy of the State walks a line between going entirely techno in its sound to fulfilling the emotional requirements of the film with symphonic cues. Enemy of the State also stands as one of the few techno scores that works well without the context of the movie.

- This film has a wonderful look. The scenery of the city and the way the action plays out, right down to the costume design, it’s all brilliant and effectively atmospheric.

- The action sequences are very well done, not a false note in any of them, and no noticeable effects used – like bullet-time – that will date the movie. You will feel the pacing of this film, it’s all in the fantastic editing job that they did. The way Enemy of the State is cut together establishes a great rhythm that never lets up. There is not a boring or slow moment in the entire film.

The Bottom Line

Fast paced, energetic, emotional, personal, even political, all of these factor in to making Enemy of the State the masterpiece of action filmmaking that it is.  I haven’t seen anything quite like it since.  Upon writing this review, I attempted to find a flaw, something – anything – that would bring my rating down.  The fact is that beyond a handful of nitpicks, I couldn’t find a single false note in the entire film.  It’s just an undeniably great movie.  It is for that reason that Enemy of the State receives my highest recommendation.  10/10.

For those who have seen Enemy of the State, what did you think?

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    • Drake0525 profile image
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      Drake0525 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      I think it's great someone agrees. I honestly expected to take flak for giving this one 10/10.

    • profile image

      David 6 years ago

      Great review; I agree 100 per cent. Relentless frenetic action that never lets up. Absolutely no padding. Top-notch plotting and writing. Thought-provoking political commentary. Sharp dialog. Swift scene changes. Some deft comedic touches. And the way in which the sub-plots unexpectedly converge — culminating with Dean pitting his two antagonists against each other — pure (and I suspect, under-appreciated) genius. Definitely in my 5 favorite movies of all time.

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