Brash, big and loud, Enemy Of The State is the fifth movie that director Tony Scott has made with Jerry Bruckheimer. Everyone should know the drill by now: expect much supercool tech and hard action, shapely femmes (for decoration rather than depth) and women in enough deadly peril to give the foolhardy, testosterone-pumped boys something to fight for. Buildings blow up, cars crash, men brawl, men bond. In other words, Scott and Bruckheimer are making movies for the 15-year-old boy in all of us. Got a problem with that?
In Enemy Of The State, all these things happen to, and around, Washington DC lawyer Robert Dean, played (mostly straight) by Men In Black star Will Smith. Dean has already had a death threat from a mafia boss when an old school chum bumps into him, gasps: ""Help me"," and surreptitiously drops something into his shopping bag. The friend sprints off to his death and Dean goes home to his yuppie townhouse, never imagining that he's carrying a thingummybob of government-toppling proportions.
The killers are agents of the super-secret National Security Agency: the electronic eyes and ears of the US government. In full cover-up mode, NSA technocrat Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight) focuses the agency's technology on Dean in a determined attempt to either make him return the secret whatsit or destroy his reputation so he's too discredited to go public with whatever the whatsit actually is.
Soon Dean's life is in ruins and his only hope is a mysterious hi-tech investigator he knows only as Brill, a man he's never met who doesn't care if Dean lives or dies. And it's when Brill (Gene Hackman in nerdy specs) finally turns up that Enemy Of The State really hits full stride.
Hackman and Smith spar like a pair of top heavyweights, and Scott has enough experience to keep out of their way. Smith delivers a strong dramatic turn as the everyman hero and reins in his usual humour and charm, rather like Cary Grant did for Hitchcock in North By Northwest. Hackman does his usual excellent job; Brill may be a crotchety old loon, but he's still an irresistible crotchety old loon.
When the stars are off-screen, it's Scott's job to keep the action interesting, and he delivers plenty of visual flair. It's a good thing he does, because much of the story is recycled with scenes recalling films like Diva, The Conversation, Mission: Impossible and even The Truman Show. Still, Scott makes what is essentially a pursuit thriller look new and keeps things moving too fast to become boring.
Enemy Of The State also means to raise serious questions about privacy versus national security, but the really frightening thing is not the Orwellian NSA technology, but the men who're using it. Modern-day Big Brother turns out not to be a mustachioed dictator, but a vanload of grungy slackers. Imagine the scruffy storm-chasers from Twister turning your life into their own private videogame. Not even Orwell imagined such a nightmare.
A pacy, twisting script is superbly acted by Smith and Hackman, and although the plot is far from original, director Scott gives this techno-thriller an explosive punch. It's one long, immensely satisfying, brain-slapping chase movie.