Enemy of the State - * * *

You’re not paranoid if they’re really after you. That’s the message of Enemy of the State, the latest techno-thriller from director Tony Scott who takes an exciting, if exaggerated, look at the lack of privacy in our increasingly technological society.

Will Smith portrays Robert Clayton Dean, a DC lawyer who unexpectedly becomes the target of intense scrutiny, when a former acquaintance (Jason Lee) gives him possession of a tape desperately wanted by the National Security Agency.

You see, the tape implicates NSA bureaucrat Reynolds (Jon Voight) in a highly unethical and illegal activity. So, he is bringing the full technological power of “big brother government” to track down and recover the tape, no matter whose civil liberties get violated.

So, when Robert finds himself under constant surveilance, the target of a smear campaign in the press, in unexpected financial distress, and in danger of losing his very life, there’s only one person he can trust. Brill (Gene Hackman) is a security expert hired, but never seen, by Robert in the past. But the secretive Brill may not want to get involved.

Enemy of the State is stuffed to the gills with an ample supply of technology and paranoia. Sure, it exaggerates here and there, but it shrewdly grounds all of its hyperbole in technological fact and jargon. We’re introduced to a hidden world…a surveilance state which exists around us even now, but the average citizen is oblivious to the countless electronic eyes upon him.

The bad guys in the film aren’t completely evil (well…okay, Jon Voight is evil…but the rest are simple bureaucrats and technogeeks just doing their job). In fact, some of the most sympathetic characters in the film are a few of those technogeeks. However, the message of the film is that the sum of all these earnest governmental workers “just doing their job” add up to a powerful weapon in the hands of an ambitious bureaucrat (like Voight).

Will Smith once again proves an amiable lead. Taken by itself, the role of Robert Clayton Dean is a little bland. But Smith’s charisma shines through, and makes Dean a character worth rooting for.

Gene Hackman is, as usual, a welcome presence. The surveilance atmosphere of Enemy of the State favorably compares to The Conversation (also featuring Hackman), though the latter is easily a better film. Hackman’s shrewd paranoia enlivens the film just when it begins to drag in its second half. So what if his character makes a few out-of-character mistakes…it’s a pleasure just to watch Hackman chew on this meaty role.

The plot of the film is, unfortunately, coincidence-driven. If a certain sequence of events didn’t happen in just the right order and just the right time, there’d be no movie. Luckily the action sequences have enough energy that you can ignore the manufactured plot and still have a good time. But a truly sharp thriller should be able to combine both plot and action.

Enemy of the State is a fun film to watch, even though it doesn’t have as much substance as it initially seems. Still, you might think twice the next time you spy a surveillance camera glaring your way.

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