Film Review: Enemy Of The State

They say that you can tell an artist from their brush strokes, or a writer from the rhythm of their language. Well the same is true of movies, you can instantly recognise a director, a producer, an actor from the fingerprints they leave upon their work. And none more so than with Jerry Bruckheimer. A producer who sadly, now resides more in the world of the small screen than the big, but a producer to which I owe my love of films.

I was in my late teens and shaping my love of cinema and films when Bruckheimer was at the top of his game, offering action, adventure and copious amounts of exploding petrol in the likes of Con Air, The Rock, Gone In Sixty Seconds and Enemy Of The State to name but a few in a very, very long list. And in the same way that Cruel Intentions instantly drags me back to that era of my life, so does the work of Bruckheimer.

Jerry Bruckheimer Films - Logo

It is quite obvious when you start to look at the list the list of films from the time that underneath it all they are basically just reshaped versions of the same ideas. Good versus Evil. The underdog versus the oppressor. Whether tied into political, criminal or historical settings, the recipe never really changes, even to the tone of the soundtrack. But I don’t care, because the end result is always a timeless thriller that leaves you thoroughly entertained. You just have to on occasions look past the problematic plot holes, acting or both.

Enemy of the State is Bruckheimer’s foray into the “big brother” world of espionage and “proper critics” I’m sure, will talk about how it directly relates to events that took place, or is some social commentary on the changing ways of digital technology at the time, for me it is just a gripping, tension packed story that still engulfs me and gets the adrenaline flowing as much as it did the first time I saw it.

Enemy Of The State works for me because it balances the right amount of light hearted fun and inherited danger. Interspersing one liners with serious political commentary. And it’s this knowledge of how and when to exactly change the tone that ties it all together. The writing may not be ground breaking, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not a narrative film. It’s a seen and not heard production. And this removes a layer of pressure from the cast allowing them the freedom to really command attention.

Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Gene Hackman & Jon Voight - Enemy Of The State

Not that the cast was ever really likely to drag the film down. It has a powerhouse leading line with Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight and an equally impressive supporting layer, and while the characters never feel truly real, mainly due to their actions being a little bit far-fetched at times, somehow they also never manage to feel false. It’s this strange scenario where by you never really believe what your seeing could actually be taking place outside, right now, but you do believe that it is happening to them.

I think this unreal reality is shown best by Smith, who manages to bring his usual laid back jocular personality through in a character who could and probably should demand far more deadpan seriousness. I would naturally expect to end up at odds with a character who laughs when I would cry but it never happens. I almost accept the frivolity because it reminds me this isn’t real.

And this small amount of lightness brought to life by the characters is important because the basic idea of the plot. Of Big Brother watching stirs up a series of strong and powerful emotions. There is a real tension in the film. It gets under your skin and even though I haven’t watched it for a while, and had forgotten in advance a number of the twists and turns it makes, it still got my pulse racing, I still felt that grip of fear, the moment of panic as bad overruns good and for a time leaves you shaken that while your life is not in danger, it may not be quite as private as you believe.

Gene Hackman Technology - Enemy Of The State

Don’t get me wrong though, Enemy Of The State has some problems. Most notably with it’s depiction of technology (that is just physically not possible, let alone in existence, classified or not) but I just don’t care. It’s story is so much more visceral than technological and therefore, the problems it has almost pass by. It’s job is to move you to the edge of your seat. To create that bead of sweat, that moment of panic in you and it will do what it needs to make it happen.

As I said at the state, it lies happily in a filmography of similar works that manages to perfectly bridge the gap between full on Hollywood action blockbuster and dark psychological thrillers. Films that seem to be nothing more than shallow, big budget, special effects and yet, worm there way into your head, stir things up and linger. Remember fondly and enjoyably. Even more impressive, after over 15 years since release it didn’t feel old, dated or heavy. It felt like a beautiful assault and a questioning race through a enthralling idea. Yes, it’s formulaic and implausible but it’s also a brilliant reminder of just how good the action thrillers of the late 1990’s were.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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