Touchstone Pictures // 1998 // 132 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // June 13th, 1999
It's not paranoia if they're really after you.
The team of director Tony Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer deliver another nonstop action filled feature film with Enemy Of The State.
The two best parts of this DVD are undoubtedly the acting and story line. The story revolves around a local DC labor lawyer played by Will Smith, who is coming into his own in the action genre, which is nice to see. That's not to say both elements of the disc were flawless. They weren't. Nevertheless, the fast paced action sequences and the acting of some of the lead characters carry this disc along.
Writer David Marconi, a relative newcomer to the writing world, delivers a powerful plot line that places Robert Clayton Dean (Smith) at the center of a murder/conspiracy headed up by a NSA policy maker. Dean comes into possession, quite by accident, of a video tape which details the murder of a powerful congressman who was holding up a bill which would have expanded the eavesdropping powers of the NSA. The NSA then delves into Dean's life and ruins every aspect it can get its hands on. It delivers false information to the local paper implicating Dean in a Mafia money-laundering scheme that gets him fired. They also deliver photos to his wife, which infuriates her and lands him on the street. In the end, Dean hooks up with a former NSA operative named Brill (Gene Hackman) who helps him get out of the mess he finds himself in. During all this we are treated with plenty of fast paced, shoot-em-up action. Included in the fun is the toppling of a six-story building and a few car chases, satellite surveillance, high tech helicopters and other spy-type technology.
Smith and Hackman excel in these roles. Smith portrays Dean as he should -- initially ponderous and confused with what is happening to his life. Later Smith gives him the edge of building anger as he learns the secrets that surround his very public downfall from the heights of success. All the while, Dean is a cocky, sarcastic jag-off, very much the successful DC attorney. Well done Mr. Smith. As usual, Mr. Hackman turns in a masterful performance, which is why he is one of our finest actors of all time. He plays Brill just right, with a severe case of paranoia, but enough mastery of his surroundings to stay alive after defecting from the NSA and remaining underground for 19 years.
The audio here is quite good, with excellent use of the LFE channel throughout a majority of the film. Dialogue is clear and centered and well articulated. I heard every sound on the track as it was intended. Directional effects were plenty and well used. There was nothing annoying about this track that I could hear.
I have several problems with this disc, and a few with the film itself. First, the writing. Rather than condemn the entire counter-surveillance community (and who on earth would want to do that), Marconi creates a worthwhile scapegoat in Thomas Reynolds (John Voight) who, we are told, is a politician and NOT a NSA operative. This crutch is a bit too easy for Marconi to lean on and left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It is easy to hate politicians in this day and age of Clintonesque spin-meisters. Frankly it is time we found someone new to terrorize us, rather than politicians and Middle Eastern terrorists.
My next major problem is with Mr. Voight's performance as Reynolds. He just seems to be going through the motions. We are never given a real reason to despise him as we should. This is just another re-hash of Voight's performance in Mission Impossible, which is too bad. We needed something from him and it wasn't there.
The video quality of this release from Disney was a bit patchy. Parts were very good, but on the whole, it lacked entirely the crispness we have seen from other excellent letterbox transfers such as Die Hard. Certain parts were downright difficult to view particularly those with lots of light and shadow in the same frame. This left a picture, which was far too contrasty with overly sharp edges. It almost looked like a really bad line doubler suffering from overscan. Other parts were simply too soft to be considered top quality. Hopefully, with Disney's recent announcement of 16x9 support, this will improve.
The final annoyance throughout the duration of this film is Director Tony Scott's insistence to include some of these fast, really edgy, quick cuts back and forth between actors and sometimes just to different angles of the same actor. To see what I'm talking about, check out the part of the movie, where Smith's character Dean is arguing with his wife after the scandal has broken. The scene begins in the middle of chapter 12 at about the 47:00 mark. I found both that and the MTV video-like quality of every scene involving satellite reconnaissance to be rather annoying. I understand why he did it, I just think it was a bad choice. But, then again, I'm not being paid millions of dollars to film blockbuster films now, am I?
Perhaps the worst thing about this disc is the lack of extras. When is Disney going to learn that we do not consider advertisements for their other movies available on DVD to be an extra feature? Hopefully very, very soon. At least this time, they advertised films that are like Enemy of the State. The extras on this disc include a theatrical trailer to the film in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, film recommendations to Crimson Tide, Deep Rising and GI Jane, Other Trailers to Armageddon (1.85:1), The Rock (1.66:1) and Con Air (2.35:1). Do you get a sense of inconsistency here? I certainly do. Probably the worst part of the extras though is the two production featurettes, BOTH of which were little more than a lengthened theatrical trailer. Each ran three minutes and included absolutely NOTHING of substance in the way of behind the scenes information on the shooting of the film, the mindset of the actors, the way the script was developed et cetera...Dear Disney, cut the crap and give us what we want.
Notwithstanding all these "negatives," I actually enjoyed Enemy Of The State. Yeah, there were some annoying aspects of the disc, but all in all, it was a decent roller coaster ride. If you haven't seen this movie yet, it's at least worth a rental.
The film is acquitted, notwithstanding its faults and blemishes. The disc is guilty and must serve 3-5 years in the county slammer, with parole eligibility to be determined at a later date.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean McGinnis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Featurette
* Filmmakers Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer