Enemy of the State Review
While watching Enemy of the State, you might be forgiven for assuming it to be an attack on the Bush administration and the revocation of civil liberties in a post-9/11 climate. The only problem with this interpretation is that the film was actually made a full three years before the World Trade Center went up in smoke, and, placed in that context, what must once have seemed like the far-fetched ramblings of an imaginative and paranoid conspiracy theorist now take on an oddly prophetic tone. For, while Enemy of the State is certainly far-fetched and ridiculously over the top in the way that most Jerry Bruckheimer productions tend to be, it's not so far from the truth as to be easily dismissed as sheer fantasy.
The film opens with the assassination of a congressman, Phillip Hammersley (an uncredited Jason Robards), at the bidding of NSA official Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight). Hammersley was a key opponent of the controversial Telecommunications Security and Privacy bill, intended to give the government unprecedented surveillance powers, and something that Reynolds would very much like to see come to pass. Hammersley's death is set up to look like a suicide, but Reynolds and his cronies didn't count on the whole thing being caught on camera courtesy of Daniel Zavitz (Jason Lee), a bird-watcher who quickly discovers that he's hit the mother load. His life is cut short, however, when, pursued by Reynolds' thugs, he collides with a bus. Before being creamed, however, he passed the disc containing the incriminating footage to an old college friend, lawyer Robert Dean (Will Smith). The unsuspecting Dean, unaware that he even has the disc, quickly becomes Reynolds' new target, as the scheming politician uses all the surveillance and tracking technology at his disposal to destroy the lawyer's credibility. Eventually, his reputation shot to pieces, Dean turns to a mysterious former spy by the name of Brill (Gene Hackman), who may be the only person left who can help him.
It's not often that a Jerry Bruckheimer production has anything worthwhile to say about real life, but there's something eerily potent about this "wrong man" story. Often playing out surprisingly similar to an adrenaline-fuelled, high-tech North by Northwest, it shows, in an admittedly exaggerated form, the sort of things a crooked government official could do with the vast network of surveillance technology that exists today. The idea of being photographed by hidden cameras twenty-four hours a day is something that UK residents, who after all reside in a country with one of the densest concentrations of security cameras in the world, are probably used to, but in America, the notion of "privacy", however abstract a concept it may be, is one that is guarded dearly by its citizens. As such, the warnings given by this film are a little like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted: to quote a key line from the film "You're talking to your wife on the phone and you use the word 'bomb', 'president', 'Allah', any of a hundred key words, the computer recognises it, automatically records it, red flags it for analysis - and that was twenty years ago." The message seems to be that, whether or not the Telecommunications Security and Privacy bill (which is essentially the Patriot Act in all but name) goes through, it's happening already.
But, real-life concerns aside, Enemy of the State is a cracking thriller, immensely entertaining and unabashedly over the top. It benefits hugely from an excellent cast, including excellent performances from Voight and Hackman, the latter effectively reprising his role from Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, and a surprisingly effective turn from Will Smith, who, prior to Michael Mann's Ali in 2001, was not exactly known for "straight" roles. Smith certainly, on occasion, plays up the comedy element of a man hopelessly out of his depth, but for the most part the role is treated seriously, and he manages to convince as the everyman who finds himself in a nightmare situation with no idea how he even got there. The cast, as it happens, reads like a veritable who's who of uncredited big names, with Seth Green, Philip Baker Hall, Jason Robards and Tom Sizemore all appearing without billing, while Gabriel Byrne shows up for just long enough to register his existence. The script, by David Marconi and an uncredited Aaron Sorkin, Henry Bean and Tony Gilroy (the latter of whom later wrote the conspiracy-fuelled The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy), is efficient although at times a little muddled, requiring a couple of sittings in order to truly understand it - not because it is particularly complicated but because certain plot strands are not effectively signposted. And let's not forget the thoroughly ridiculous scene in which a technician not only "enhances" a blurry frame of security camera footage but also rotates the entire shot, as if it were a 3D simulation, to get a better look at the contents of an obscured shopping bag.
Style-wise, this is a good fit for director Tony Scott, who, since the mid-90s, has been adopting progressively more frenetic editing patterns, resulting in his films being less and less comprehensible. These techniques arguably reached their apex (or nadir, if you like) with Domino in 2005, which conveyed, a little too effectively, the nausea of a bad drug trip. Enemy of the State was made at something of a mid-point in Scott's pursuit of editorial mayhem, when the rapid cutting and shaky camera effects were used with restraint and generally only when appropriate to the plot. It's certainly a tense film, and one that, even at well over two hours, doesn't feel overlong, doing a decent job of countering the various action set-pieces (which are often extremely well-designed) with decent dramatic material, the bulk of it between the bewildered Smith and the crotchety Hackman.
It may not be a masterpiece or a work of genius by any stretch of the imagination, but it's difficult to deny that Enemy of the State is an unapologetic joyride of cinematic excess, albeit one using an uncomfortably pertinent social issue as its backdrop. Jerry Bruckheimer productions tend to be lightweight and are often infuriatingly stupid, but this is a rare example of one that manages to juggle the explosions and the plot effectively, creating an all-round solid conspiracy thriller that, for me at least, remains one of Tony Scott's most unabashedly enjoyable films.
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and encoded at 1080p using MPEG2, Enemy of the State had the misfortune of being made at a time when studios were first beginning to make a habit of creating high definition masters for new releases - just not very good ones. The source used for this Blu-ray release appears to be the same one that has been hauled out every time a new DVD release has been commissioned. As you can expect, the image quality is a bit underwhelming. Detail levels aren't too bad, but there is some fairly obvious filtering going on - look carefully at the letterboxing at the top and bottom of the screen and you'll see that the line between the black bars and the image itself is soft and ringed rather than a crisp transition. Edge enhancement is also prevalent in places, although thankfully nothing like as bad as the initial DVD releases. There is also a considerable amount of white "blooming" around the opening credits and on-screen location type, although this is an artefact of the optical process rather than the digital master. Finally, despite being released on a BD50 and having little in the way of bonus materials, some compression artefacts are visible on occasion: for example, on Zavitz's red fleece when he escapes from his apartment, and later on in a puddle during Dean and Brill's escape from Reynolds' thugs near the railway tracks. All in all, this is a reasonably watchable but flawed effort from Disney.
For audio, Disney offer an uncompressed PCM (48 Khz/24-bit) track and a standard Dolby Digital (640 Kbps) track, both in 5.1. Unfortunately, my only Blu-ray system is a Playstation 3, which is incapable of outputting better than 2-channel audio without an HDMI A/V receiver (which I don't have), so reviewing the PCM track is a little tricky. As such, I can't comment on its surround mixing, but I did listen to it in stereo and could discern little, if any, difference between it and the Dolby track in terms of clarity. In comparison with many action blockbusters, Enemy of the State's mix is fairly restrained, using the rears on occasion to augment an explosion or a car zipping past, but generally opting for more front-focused effects. The bass response is excellent, and the dialogue clarity is generally as good as can be expected when people are running for their lives with tires screaming behind them and buildings exploding.
French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs are also included, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles. Commendably, these subtitles are situated within the video frame itself, unlike most 2.35:1/2.39:1 high definition releases, where they end up on the letterboxing (a pain in the neck for those with fixed height projection displays).
One final point that must be made about this presentation of the film is that, unlike the most recent DVD release, this is the original theatrical cut rather than the slightly longer extended cut. Given that the extended cut merely re-inserted a handful of previously deleted scenes, as far as I'm aware without Tony Scott's participation, its legitimacy is questionable at best, so personally I have no complaints about the version contained on this disc. Others, however, looking to own the longest version of the film, may be disappointed.
For the Blu-ray release, Disney have replicated the rather meagre line-up of extras from the standard definition Extended Edition. These include two brief deleted scenes, a lightweight 30-minute featurette on the making of the film, and a 13-minute "All Access" featurette focusing on the shooting of the gun-toting stand-off that serves as the film's climax. The theatrical trailer is also included, in grubby standard definition, as well as a "Movie Showcase" feature, which is essentially a ready-made screen of bookmarks for scenes which apparently showcase the ultimate in high definition picture and sound. Three scenes are included here, and they are generally appropriately selected, although, given that this release is far from the finest in HD image quality or aggressive audio, this is not really a title that I would recommend for demoing your home theatre setup. Additionally, they only offer plain old Dolby Digital 5.1 for audio, despite the film itself featuring the option of uncompressed PCM.
As a side note, the packaging claims that the extras are presented in "1080p & 1080i High Definition". As it turns out, though, this is tantamount to false advertising because the features in question are merely upscaled from their original 480i standard definition variants. Only the Movie Showcase, and a brief trailer for other Buena Vista Blu-ray releases, are in actual high definition.
Disney's Blu-ray release of Enemy of the State screams "catalogue title". With no additional extras and a transfer based on an old master that really isn't of an acceptable standard in 2007, this is yet another release that's difficult to recommend to all but the most ardent fans of the film. While it's undoubtedly better than the standard definition DVD, it could, and should, have been so much better than this.
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