Movie #139 2020: Enemy of the State (1998)

The late nineties are rightly renowned for some brilliant movies. Although Enemy of the State doesn’t quite reach the heights of ‘movie masterpiece’, I still had an absolute blast with it.

We follow a 30 year old Will Smith through the city of Washington, where a political scandal is unfolding. (Shock, horror). This involves some dodgy dealings in pushing counterterrorism measures through in secret, plus a murder to go on top of that, when Smith’s character finds him in a severe case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’, and government agents become hell-bent on killing him before he can leak the wrong-doings to the rest of the world.

This is a film that is so delightfully nineties. Even the opening credits are of their time. What is interesting is the extent to which this film predicts the future: privacy laws, Edward Snowden, and the Patriot Act are all alluded to within its walls… and they hadn’t even happened yet! And this is almost The Simpsons levels of predicting the future: the main antagonist is revealed to have been born on September 11th. That’s right… 9/11. Tony Scott was surely some kind of psychic.

There are many, many great casting choices in this movie. Seth Green and Jack Black star in smaller roles as the tech guys, which is a great example of this, not to mention that Gene Hackman almost exactly revives his iconic character from The Conversation. Enemy of the State is often touted (somewhat jokingly) to be a ‘sequel’ to the 1974 classic, and I can totally see why. Regina King and Will Smith give absolutely stellar performances here too, which is not surprising. I’d guess that this is how Smith got into action movies but… I can’t think of another that’s as good as this. You can quote me on that.

It goes without saying that this movie doesn’t have universal appeal. If you don’t have an interest in public surveillance or covert ops or US politics and law, you’re probably not going to like it. Lucky for me, I’m that nerd 🤓.  Action thriller me up, Mr. Scott.

Some of the plot seems ridiculous here (mainly the NSA booby traps, shoe bugs, wristwatch trackers, etc) but it’s actually really well story-boarded. There’s always something going on, nothing is filler, and the director has clearly nailed the technical aspects of the movie. Other than it being so specific that a lot of viewers won’t be interested enough in its subject matter, it’s difficult to see why anyone would rate this movie below average.

Although this is certainly not one for the kids and is mildly dated at this point, it’s cool to step back in time to get into the public psyche of 1998, and a movie that I would recommend without reservation.

Enemy of the State is available to stream on Sky Cinema and NowTV.

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