Enemy of the State

You ever get that creepy feeling that you’re being watched? There is no one else around, but for some reason, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and paranoia sets in. Is that smoke detector really a smoke detector? Is that unusual hum on the other end of the phone just static (are you listening, Linda Tripp)?


Big brother is watching, but just whose relative is he? The government? Your boss? The Fox television network? enemyofthestateIt’s nerve-racking, and so is the new thriller “Enemy of the State,” which takes all of those fears and paranoia and puts them to good use.

Most Americans don’t trust the government, and after watching “Enemy of the State,” the fear grows even stronger. We know they know much more than they let on, but just how far are they willing to go? That’s the chilling premise of the familiar yet still satisfying techno-thriller written by David Marconi and brought life with exciting clarity by director Tony Scott. How would or could a common man defend himself against such high-tech scrutiny? One day your life is on track, the next day everything you hold near and dear is gone, and you don’t even know why. That’s what happens to Washington lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (played with indomitable conviction by Will Smith). One day he’s putting his life on the line to protect union members from the Mob. The next he’s running for his life from an unknown enemy that seems to know his every move.

It all starts with an innocent (and funny) visit to a lingerie shop to buy his wife (Regina King, highly emotional) a Christmas present. Dean bumps into an old college friend (Jason Lee) in the shop, who hides a damaging computer disc in Dean’s shopping bags. The disc contains video of a top government official involved in the murder of a United States Congressman (Jason Robards, brief but effective). The government official, Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight, appropriately icy), an administrator for the State Department on loan to the National Security Agency, will do anything to retrieve the damaging evidence, including using the agency’s high-tech weapons to track him down. Dean doesn’t stand a chance against Reynold’s team, who infiltrate Dean’s life by hiding cameras and listening devices in every conceivable place: his shoes, his pen, his cellular phone, his house.

They use spy satellites to follow him around town, and have trained killers shadow his every movement. Dean can’t stop them because he doesn’t understand what they’re doing. All he knows is that his life is quickly coming undone at the seams. The NSA fills the newspapers with bogus stories that cause Dean to lose his job, his family, and his freedom. People he knows or comes in contact with end up dead, and before long, he’s being framed for murder. It’s a creepy situation that is played out in the broadest of strokes. Director Scott, not known for his subtlety, fills “Enemy of the State” with one close call after another.

Once Dean is on the run, the film never lets up, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. The fast pace helps the film overcome it’s familiar plot threads, but the film never slows down long enough to properly introduce the characters. That reduces most of them to caricatures, like the computer geek, the ex-military thug, and the distraught wife. Luckily, most of the roles are filled by competent actors who use shorthand to convey depth. “Enemy of the State” really picks up in the second half when Dean meets Brill, a mysterious figure who understands the position Dean is in and reluctantly agrees to help him.

Brill, a former NSA agent, helps Dean escape from underneath Reynold’s microscope, and then assists him in getting his life back. Brill is one of those great characters who ride in on their white horse and save the day, and he’s well played by Gene Hackman. Hackman doesn’t arrive until an hour in to the film, and when he does, he commands the screen. Smith and Hackman work well together, and the moments they share are genuine. The competent cast makes it all matter, from Voight’s conniving agency goon, to the numerous young actors who play the NSA techno-wizards. Regina King gets the short shrift here. Her role as Dean’s wife is poorly written, and she’s allowed to overplay it to the point of embarrassment.

Technically, the film is a marvel, with razor sharp editing by Chris Lebenzon, visually stunning cinematography by Dan Mindel, and a sprite score by Trevor Rabin and Harry Gregson-Williams. Scott, whose last film was the disastrous “The Fan,” fares much better here. The story is topical and relevant. In his pursuit of the truth, Smith’s character winds up in some unorthodox places, and Scott seems to delight in putting his camera in these tight places. It helps complete the illusion of paranoia. Even when it treads on familiar ground, it’s still suspenseful and exciting.

COMPLETE CHECK-UP

VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Absolutely stunning 2.35:1 widescreen digital transfer (okay it’s not anamorphic, but I’ll live). Except for on occasion of shimmering in a long shot, the images are vivid and sharp. The colors are so lifelike they leap off the screen. Thanks to a pristine negative, the final product is as clean as they come. Not an ounce of compression artifacts or pixelation. Instead, you get rock solid blacks that hold up under the most stringent of circumstances. The flesh tones are so flattering when you freeze frame the close-ups you feel like you’re sharing the same space with the actor. Especially impressive is the depth of field and attention to detail, which is definitive. The images are so clear you can read road signs in the background. There are numerous scenes involving tricky lighting, yet the mastering is so perfect they survive intact.

HEARING: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The soundtrack in “Enemy of the State” is as intricate as the instruments the government agents use in the film, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track delivers, and then some. The ambient sound is awesome, filling the room with unexpected noises and distractions. The dialogue mix is strong and to the point, while the stereo split (left-to-right, front-to-back) is precise. Not on iota of hiss or distortion, even when the soundtrack reaches. The basses are virile, while the middle and high ends sound sweet and pure. Surround effects are extremely strong, keeping you in the middle of the action. Outstanding presentation, that is also available in a French language track.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Disney has been paying attention to what people want on their DVDs. Unlike some of their previous discs, which only had the main menus and perhaps a theatrical trailer, the “Enemy of the State” DVD features four theatrical trailers. You get the film’s original theatrical, plus trailers for “The Rock,” “Con Air” and “Armageddon.” What’s the connection? They are all Jerry Bruckheimer films. Nice addition. There are also two production featurettes, each 3 minutes long, which are quaint but not very informative. However, it’s better than nothing. The main and scene access menus are also handsome and easy to navigate.

PROGNOSIS: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

It’s not paranoia if they’re really watching you. Excellent presentation for an exciting film.

VITALS: $29.98/Rated R/132 Minutes/Color/29 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#16537

ATTENDING RESIDENT: John Larsen

PATIENT: ENEMY OF THE STATE

BIRTH DATE: 1999

HMO: Touchstone Home Video



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