Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2006)
Another day, another Jerry Bruckheimer movie to review. I've often defended his films, though not so much because I'm a big fan; none of his pictures are very high on my "all-time favorites" list. Instead, I do so due to the fact that his work gets so widely bashed for being dumb and improbable/impossible. In my opinion, those critics miss the point, as Bruckheimer films function as nothing more than an exciting escape. Do these people criticize rollercoasters because the rides never made them think?
Surprisingly, 1998ís Enemy of the State largely avoided these criticisms. In part, this may be due to the fact it came so close on the heels of Armageddon, one of the Bruckheimer foesí favorite targets. However, the absence of attacks has a lot to do with the fact that Enemy actually offers a thought-provoking scenario: where is the line drawn between the public's right to know and a person's right to privacy?
Usually these discussions focus on issues that relate to public figures. For example, just how much about the president's private life do we deserve to know? Enemy, on the other hand, takes a much creepier view at the subject by demonstrating the ways that technology could be used to infiltrate and destroy a person's life.
This isn't new territory. The Net looked at this a few years earlier. Nonetheless, Enemy succeeds with a style and excitement that previous examinations of this subject lacked. It offers just enough brain fodder to provoke you, but it still keeps its focus where it counts: on the thriller aspects of the tale.
As I've said in the past, Bruckheimer usually knows his strengths and plays to them. If the audiences think the films are stupid, so be it, but don't fault him for doing what he does best. Director Tony Scott enjoyed a decent run with Bruckheimer, especially in the Nineties. His Crimson Tide remains arguably the finest Bruckheimer film to date. Both that film and Enemy share a similar formula: interest the audience with a thought-provoking issue and keep them enthralled with gripping action and tension.
Don't get me wrong: Enemy is probably not one of those movies you'll feel compelled to discuss for hours with friends. At best, you'll probably think, "Oooh! Creepy!" as it ends, and then you'll flip on a ballgame. Still, it does deserve credit for at least attempting to posit something of a social issue, which is more than we get from most films.
Of course, the topic seems all the more interesting given the Bush administrationís desire to spy on everyone. The movie offers many of the same arguments in favor and against this in recent years. Current events have made Enemy seem almost prescient.
Probably the most fault that can be found with Enemy stems from its view of the US government as some sort of organization that can actually pull off a good conspiracy. One of the biggest flaws with theories about the government's alleged cover-ups of Roswell or of the Kennedy assassination stems from the fact that so much ineptness occurs daily in that organization. If they couldn't keep the Watergate break-in a secret, how in the hell have they kept the lid on such hot button issues as those? This all-powerful government makes for fun movie fodder, but it's completely out of touch with the realities of the situation.
Technologically, Enemy seems rather suspect as well. I'm no expert, but I have my doubts about a lot of the methods on display in this film. Do they exist Ė at least as of 1998 - and could they be used in these ways? Maybe, I guess. Is it likely that we'd reached such a high level of technological sophistication and flawlessness in 1998? Not really.
Still, I have to come back to my original approach: no one said this was a documentary. Enemy is supposed to be an exciting thrill ride of a movie, and it succeeds. It's interesting to note that it can't be called a "whodunit," because we see the culprits right from the outset. The tension in the film completely revolves around discovering how our hero, Robert Dean (Will Smith), will eventually emerge from the villains' clutches. Is there ever any doubt that he will win? Nope. But the fun comes from the ways that he does it. I thought Enemy offered one of the more clever and entertaining conclusions that I've seen from this kind of film.
As would be expected in a Bruckheimer film, production values are topnotch and it includes a very strong cast. The Bruckheimer formula insists that the actors include a number of big stars, and Enemy doesn't falter in that regard. Smith does some of his best work as Dean. He manages to keep the smartass charm racheted down a few notches and creates a believable character. Unlike his roles in Independence Day and Men in Black, he lets himself come across as much more human and fallible here. Gene Hackman also does his usual strong work as the mysterious Brill. Although they don't spend all that much time onscreen together, he and Smith create a nice chemistry between themselves.
(On an unusual cast note, Enemy has to feature more uncredited actors in fairly large roles than I can remember. Tom Sizemore, Jason Robards, and Seth Green are not credited for their parts, even though all are important players. Is this some kind of Hollywood hip thing? Do actors feel more important when they don't get written credit for their work? I don't get it.)
Scott does a competent job in the director's chair. I donít think much of him as a director overall, but he manages to hold his own and he keeps the movie proceeding at a nice clip. Thereís not a lot about Enemy of the State that seems remarkable, but the movie balances issues, action and suspense well enough to keep us interested.