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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 7/2/99

Enemy of the State
1998 (1999) Touchstone (Buena Vista)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enemy of the State Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A+/C+

Specs and Features

132 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at 1:16:43 in chapter 18), Amaray keep case packaging, two "behind-the-scenes" production featurettes, theatrical trailer, preview trailers for The Rock, Armageddon and Con Air, film-themed menus, scene access (29 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Close Captioned

Robert Dean (Will Smith) is a young and ambitious labor attorney in Washington DC, who seems to have a strange knack for pissing the wrong people off. First, he tries to bully a local crime boss into laying off his clients, with a little old-fashioned blackmail, courtesy of an incriminating videotape. The video was taken by a mysterious operative, that Dean hired through an old flame, and the crime boss (played by Tom Sizemore) is none too pleased. Then, Dean has the misfortune of bumping into an old friend from college, who is killed minutes later. Suddenly, Dean's life begins turning upside-down. His credit cards don't work, a false story appears in the paper that results in him losing his job, his wife is made to think he had an affair - you name it. Dean thinks it's the crime boss trying to get back at him... but he's way off the mark.

As it turns out, a rogue NSA chief named Reynolds (Jon Voight) has murdered an influential Senator, because he wouldn't support legislation that would allow the government to spy on anyone, for any reason, in the name of national security. Dean's friend accidentally captured the murder on videotape, and Reynolds and his men think Dean was passed the tape. Now, they will stop at nothing, using every form of high tech surveillance at their disposal, to find Dean and get the tape. And with his life falling apart, Dean has only one place to turn: the aforementioned, mysterious operative, known only as Brill.

Have you ever wondered what that camera in the parking lot was hooked up to, and who was watching it? Do believe that our spy satellites can read the headlines on a newspaper from orbit? Have you ever wondered just how far the government could and would invade your privacy in the name of national security? Well if your name isn't Richard Jewell, then you're probably just a touch paranoid. You remember Richard, right? The poor guy who was wrongly accused of the Atlanta Olympic park bombing, and had his life turned upside down by the FBI? As they say in the movies, it isn't paranoia if they're really out to get you.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott have teamed up once again, and definitely deliver the goods, in this fast-paced, plugged-in, and surprisingly effective action/thriller. Enemy of the State is frenetic and edgy, featuring some great twists and turns, and a first rate cast. Will Smith is as good as ever here - likable and completely believable. It's one of his best roles so far. Few actors play a trench-coat heavy as well as Voight. And Gene Hackman shines in a performance that gives a clever nod to his earlier role in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation. This film is all-around spooky good fun.

The video quality on this DVD is generally good, in letterboxed widescreen, but the lack of anamorphic enhancement is extremely disappointing. This would have been an obvious film on which to use DVD's 16x9 feature, with its big action, and fast-paced visuals. The print used for the transfer is a tiny bit grainy, but it's otherwise excellent. Sadly, a lot of edge-enhancement was used here - this definitely isn't a high definition transfer. Look at the shimmering on Sizemore's forehead in chapter 5 - that's edge enhancement at its finest. In fact, this transfer reminds me a lot of the one done on another great Tony Scott flick on DVD, Crimson Tide - remember all the shimmering on foreheads in that one? A proper high-def transfer would have greatly improved the look of the DVDs in both cases. What we get instead is a picture that looks crispy, but not quite sharp. Aside from that, there are great deep blacks here - the Scott boys do love watering down the streets for that sexy look, and muted, high-contrast lighting (and I say, God bless them for it). Contrast is excellent, and the colors are very solid, if somewhat subdued. All in all, it's very good, but could have been so much better.

The audio is the real star of this DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix is excellent, with lots of nifty panning, rear channel effects, and deep, throbbing bass. The mix is thunderous, with well placed dialogue, and pulse-pounding, if uninspired, music. All in all, this is an great audio experience, that really draws you into the movie - it's almost as nifty as the sound on the DVD version of The Rock. And it gives your sound system a definite workout.

Once again, the extras leave a little to be desired. The DVD menus are pretty lifeless, considering all of the fun, computer-readout animations and nifty sound twists that could have been used to introduce this disc. The disc includes a pair of short, "behind-the-scenes" featurettes, the original theatrical trailer, and a trio of preview trailers for other Buena Vista action DVDs the studio figures you might like. Blah. I don't even want to think about all of the cool things that could have been done on this disc. Let's just say that the studio is currently trying to crank out as many cookie-cutter DVDs as it can, and it shows.

Enemy of the State is one of those movies that sort of gets under your skin. It's extremely effective, well-directed and acted, and it suspends your disbelief just enough so that you can buy into the plot, but doesn't ask you to buy so much that you just shake your head and groan. I'll take a clever film like this over contrived, garbage-on-steroids like Armageddon any day. And while the DVD isn't nearly as good as it could (or should) be, it is good enough to get the job done. How's that for a mixed recommendation?

Bill Hunt
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