Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Essentials- "Enemy of the State" (1998)

The Essentials-#44

Enemy of the State
When you are not a fan of a particular actor, its easy to overlook their entire filmography. Sometimes, we spend so much energy disliking something that we can forget how much good and potential that something had. It happens for me with actors all the time. I can honestly say that there are very few actors that I downright cannot stand. I feel each actor has the ability to transform their image, their style, their strategy and their way of evoking emotion. I feel Will Smith's hayday was in the 1990's, before he was grew a big ego. I mean, I am sure that ego was always there to some extent, but it was less evident in the 1990's. This is why, in Smith's early years, was easier to like him. There is no question that Smith is a believable movie star, I'll always give him that much. But there was something addicting about his charm and charisma in his early career.

I loved "Independence Day," and "Men In Black," I also thought "Bad Boys" wasn't too bad on a completely brainless level. But I absolutely couldn't stand "Wild, Wild West." Those were the big Smith movies from the 1990's, but there was also a less flashy gem called "Enemy of the State." I personally think out all the films Smith starred in that decade, it was definitely "Enemy of the State." A movie that worked on a big action level as well as a political thriller level. 

I think its also interesting that if "Enemy of the State" came out now, it would have been slightly more relevant today. Just goes to show how some movie can carry strange omens to the future at times. It revolves around the accidental video taping of a murder. But this isn't any standard murder, it was the murder of a United States Congressmen by the NSA. The act is recorded by an wildlife researcher who is a friend with a big-time lawyer. The NSA comes to the reseacher's place to retrieve the tape, but the researcher goes on the run. By mere chance, the researcher runs into his lawyer buddy and gives the tape to him. Soon enough, the NSA catches wind of this, and the rest of the film is a classic "whodunit" movie as the lawyer tries to clear his name as well as bring the NSA to justice. 

The lawyer is Robert Dean played by Will Smith. Knowing Smith, he could have honestly done this movie in his sleep. He nails being the family man, nails the guy in search for answers and he even throws some of his usual humor in. It all works in an exceptionally perfect way. Jon Voight plays Thomas Reynolds, a high-ranking official at the NSA who murders the Congressman to ensure a new surveillance bill is passed. This was also another great role for Voight. Voight is at his best when he's playing a scheming villain, and this was one of his best performances of that decade. I also have cannot go without mentioning Gene Hackman. Hackman. Hackman plays Brill, a former operative who got blackballed by the United States government and eventually decides to help Dean. Normally, Hackman is good at playing sweet, but its awesome to watch him so hard-boiled here.

The film also features a whose-who of supporting actors who starred in just about every action movie in the 1990's. Actors like Jason Lee, Barry Pepper, Scott Caan, Jake Busey, Gabriel Bryne, Jack Black (yes, Jack Black), Seth Green, Tom Sizemore, Lisa Bonet, Ian Hart, and Jamie Kennedy. Its a great ensemble of supporting actors, all who put out wonderful work. I also loved the work by Regina Hall as Dean's wife. She does the protective, fierce mother very well. 

I love the big action beats in the film and I think the film benefits by the small-dose use of them. This is more thriller than action film, and I think the mixture is well-balanced. If Hitchcock did modern political (and he may have, my brain just isn't working tonight), it would look a lot like this. This movie also works as a brilliant showcase of just how good Smith can be as an actor. Its hard to watch something like this, then turn to E! and look at the guy he's become. But, that's why we always hold on to nostalgia.

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