Enemy of the State is a classical tale of good versus evil, complete with a tortured hero and a powerful villain. The plot revolves around Washington lawyer Robert Dean (Will Smith), an average family man, who suddenly finds his life turned upside down when an old acquaintance slips a video tape that no one is supposed to ever see into his shopping bag.
The tape contains footage of the murder of a United States senator by a member of the National Security Agency (NSA). When agents at the NSA get word that Dean is in possession of the tape, they proceed to ruin his career, drive him from his home, and threaten his life in an attempt to get the tape back. Thus begins Dean’s fight for survival and his struggle to regain what has been taken from him. Along the way, he crosses paths with Brill (Gene Hackman), a former NSA agent who hates his old employer.
With Brill’s help, Dean uses high-tech gadgetry and sheer personal determination to turn the tables on the government that wants to destroy him. Told in a classical narrative style, Enemy of the State takes an ordinary man and, through turning his world upside down, forces him to become a reluctant hero. Smith’s Robert Dean is the clear protagonist of the film.
Targeted for a downfall by an all-powerful, faceless government, Dean must fight this seemingly invincible enemy to restore order to his fragmented world. We sympathize with Dean because he is so ordinary; he could be any one of us, and we root for him all the way through the film The government acts as the rival in this film, corrupt with power and packed with evil.
Each time we see to what lengths the government will go to destroy one man it sends a shiver down our spine, because part of us believes that this could be real. The truly frightening thing is that this could be real. David Marconi, who wrote the screenplay, spent months researching the real NSA and the high-tech gadgetry they use, and even managed to get a tour of the agency for some of the top-level production people on the film (no easy task, since the NSA goes to great length to keep their existence a secret).
Enemy of the State sets up a fictional world, invites some catastrophe into that world, and then proceeds toward a resolution, while throwing some twists and turns along the way. The outcome is never in doubt, and we know it will be emotionally satisfying on some level, but the process of getting us to the conclusion holds us in enough awe and throws just enough doubts our about our hero’s chances of winning our way that we stay interested in the story (Zapp).
The overall theme of the movie asks the question of how far the government should go in invading the privacy of its citizens, ostensibly in the interest of protecting them. This theme is appropriately relevant to modern life in the United States, particularly in light of the events of September 11. The struggle of our hero against the probing eyes of the establishment is both poignant and personal. We can understand his point of view, because the issues he faces are exaggerated examples of issues we all face in today’s society. Borrowing heavily from the ideas of George Orwell, Enemy of the State paints a suitably realistic picture of what could happen if our government continues on its present course.
The struggle of Robert Dean against a government that has eyes everywhere reflects, on a larger scale, what we as citizens are starting to deal with ourselves. Writers like Jules Verne foresaw future technologies that became real. Who is to say that our government does not already have technology that can replicate the thought police of Orwell’s future world? (1984) One thing that stands out about Enemy of the State is its unique use of camera angles to set mood and tone. A good example of this is in the opening sequence.
Vantages of Washington D.C. exteriors are spliced with shots of high-tech monitors and other devices tracking vehicles from fast-orbiting satellites. The camera changes angle quickly and unpredictably here, blending with this dizzying montage of images to set the frantic, overwhelmed tone of the whole film. Another example is the unique angles used during scenes depicting Dean having an argument with his wife and Dean being chased through a tunnel.
The crooked angles used to present these scenes clearly convey the fact that Dean’s life is being turned upside down. Some good use of shadow during indoor scenes helps contribute to the overall paranoid, claustrophobic feel of the film. Director Tony Scott clearly demonstrates his ability to use cameral angles and lighting to evoke the feelings central to the theme of the film. Tony Scott has a reputation as a master of the visually appealing action film. (Tony Scott) He does not fail to live up to that reputation with Enemy of the State.
He keeps up a quick pace throughout, using a multitude of finely-choreographed chase scenes and narrow escapes guaranteed to bring audiences to the edge of their seats. High levels of speed and intensity are even used in the transitional scenes, giving the impression that every moment you are watching unfold is of the essence for the hero, with no time to waste. Like Robert Dean, Tony Scott wants you to feel frantic. He wants you to be out of breath and surfing the dying ebbs of a major adrenaline rush by the time the last scene comes on the screen.
This whole film is about mood and tone, and Tony Scott is a master at using image to evoke the precise emotions he wants his audience to feel. Sound, too, is used to precise effect in this film. Much of the film’s score is peppered with electronic sounds that convey a computerized, synthetic feeling. The organic world plays little part in Enemy of the State, and the music of the film reaffirms that at every opportunity. Tony Scott does not want you to forget that technology is what drives this movie, that without it the villains could not operate and our hero could not triumph.
The main themes used in the score of the film are appropriately fast-paced, almost frenetic pieces of music that add to the overall urgent tone of the movie. The music is well-placed here; it does not overshadow the action or distract from it, as in some films. In fact, without the music, with its buzzing, electronic beat, there is a real chance that those desperate chase scenes would not have seemed so desperate. As an example of the action film genre, Enemy of the State is unique. No other film in recent memory has made such use of camera angles, image, and sound to create a precise tone of high-speed paranoia.
Tony Scott likes to make action movies, and he has made some interesting choices here. By combining a variety of filmmaking elements in innovative ways, he completely and effectively draws us into his creation. With Enemy of the State, Tony Scott has taken everyone’s worst secret fears about what our government might actually be and made it real, placing someone who could be anyone right into the middle of the nightmare. While the dialogue and the action are important here, the things going on behind the camera are just as important in making this movie work. Enemy of the State will long be remembered for using sheer cinematic technique to bring us into the mind and world of its hero.