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Enemy of the State
Enemy of the State is a 1998 American action-thriller about a group of rogue NSA agents who kill a US Congressman and try to cover up the murder. It was written by David Marconi, directed by Tony Scott, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. It stars Will Smith and Gene Hackman, with Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, and Regina King in supporting roles.
The film grossed over $250,000,000 worldwide ($111,549,836 within the US).
As the U.S. Congress moves to pass new legislation that dramatically expands the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies, Congressman Phil Hammersley (Robards) remains firmly opposed to its passage. To ensure the bill’s passage, National Security Agency official Thomas Reynolds (Voight) kills Hammersley, but he is unaware of a video camera set up by wildlife researcher Daniel Zavitz (Lee) that has captured the entire incident. Zavitz discovers the murder, and alerts an underground journalist, at the same time transferring the video to an innocuous computer disc. Reynolds learns of Zavitz’s footage, and sends a team to recover the video. While fleeing, Zavitz runs into an old college friend, labor lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (Smith). Zavitz secretly passes the computer disc into Dean’s shopping bag without his knowledge. Zavitz flees and is killed when hit by a fire truck. Reynolds soon has the underground journalist killed.
When the NSA discovers that Dean may have the video, a team raids his house and plants surveillance devices. Unable to find the video, the NSA proceeds to falsely incriminate Dean of passing classified information to Rachel Banks (Bonet), a former girlfriend. The subterfuge destroys Dean’s life: he is fired from his job, his bank accounts are frozen, and his wife (King) throws him out of the house. Dean, trailed by the NSA, meets with Banks, who sets up a meeting with “Brill”, one of her secret contacts. After meeting an NSA agent posing as Brill (Byrne), Dean realizes his error, only to have the real Brill, retired NSA agent Edward Lyle (Hackman), ferry him to temporary safety and help rid Dean of most of the tracking devices he is unwittingly carrying. Dean ultimately rids himself of the final device and, fleeing his pursuers, escapes.
With Dean and Lyle in hiding, the NSA agents kill Banks and frame Dean for the murder. Lyle is able to find evidence that the NSA executed Hammersley’s murder, but it is destroyed during an escape from an NSA raid.
It is then revealed that Lyle was an expert in communications for the NSA; he was stationed in Iran before the Iranian Revolution. When the revolution occurred, Lyle made it out of the country, but his partner, Rachel’s father, was killed. Since then he has been in hiding. Lyle tries to coax Dean into trying to run away, but Dean is adamant about clearing his name.
Dean and Lyle blackmail another supporter of the surveillance bill, Congressman Sam Albert (Wilson), by videotaping him having an affair with his aide. Dean and Lyle “hide” bugs that Reynolds had used on Dean in Albert’s room so Albert will find them and have the NSA start an investigation. Lyle also deposits $140,000 into Reynolds’ bank account to make it appear that he is taking bribes.
Lyle contacts Reynolds to tell him he has the video of the Hammersley murder and asks to meet. Dean tells them that the Hammersley murder footage is in the hands of Mafia boss Joey Pintero (Sizemore), whose office is under FBI surveillance. Dean, Reynolds, and the NSA team head into Pintero’s restaurant, precipitating a gunfight that kills the mobsters, Reynolds, and several of his NSA team.
Dean and Lyle escape, with Lyle quickly disappearing from the authorities. The FBI discovers the plot behind the legislation, causing it to fail, though they cover up the NSA’s involvement. Dean is cleared of all charges and is reunited with his wife. Lyle escapes to a tropical location, but sends a “goodbye” message to Dean.
- Will Smith as Robert Clayton Dean
- Gene Hackman as Edward “Brill” Lyle
- Jon Voight as Thomas Brian Reynolds
- Barry Pepper as David Pratt
- Regina King as Carla Dean
- Ian Hart as John Bingham
- Lisa Bonet as Rachel F. Banks
- Jascha Washington as Eric Dean
- James LeGros as Jerry Miller
- Jake Busey as Krug
- Scott Caan as Jones
- Jamie Kennedy as Jamie Williams
- Jason Lee as Daniel Leon Zavitz
- Gabriel Byrne as Fake Brill
- Stuart Wilson as Congressman Sam Albert
- Jack Black as Fiedler
- Anna Gunn as Emily Reynolds
- Laura Cayouette as Christa Hawkins
- Loren Dean as Loren Hicks
- Bodhi Elfman as Van
- Dan Butler as NSA Director Admiral Shaffer
- Seth Green as Selby (uncredited)
- Tom Sizemore as Boss Paulie Pintero (uncredited)
- Jason Robards as Congressman Phil Hammersley (uncredited)
- Philip Baker Hall as Attorney Mark Silverberg (uncredited)
- Brian Markinson as Attorney Brian Blake (uncredited)
- Larry King as Himself (uncredited)
- Ivana Miličević as Ruby’s Sales Clerk
Although the story is set in both Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, most of the filming was done in Baltimore. Location shooting began on a ferry in Fells Point. In mid-January, the company moved to Los Angeles to complete production in April 1998.
Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise were considered for the part that went to Will Smith, who took the role largely because he wanted to work with Gene Hackman and had previously enjoyed working with producer Jerry Bruckheimer on Bad Boys. George Clooney was also considered for a role in the film. Sean Connery was considered for the role that went to Hackman. The film’s crew included a technical surveillance counter-measures consultant who also had a minor role as a spy shop merchant. Hackman had previously acted in a similar thriller about spying and surveillance film, The Conversation (1974).
Enemy of the State was moderately well received by critics. Rotten Tomatoes presented a 71% “Fresh” rating for the movie, with 57 critics approving of the movie and 24 noting the film as “Rotten;” similar results could be found at the website Metacritic, which displayed a normalized ranking of 67 out of 100 on the basis of the views of 22 critics. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times expressed enjoyment in the movie, noting how its “pizazz [overcame] occasional lapses in moment-to-moment plausibility;” Janet Maslin of the New York Times approved of the film’s action-packed sequences, but cited how it was similar in manner to the rest of the members of “Simpson’s and Bruckheimer’s school of empty but sensation-packed filming.” In a combination of the two’s views, Edvins Beitiks of the San Francisco Examiner praised many of the movie’s development aspects, but criticized the overall concept that drove the film from the beginning — the efficiency of government intelligence — as unrealistic.
According to film critic Kim Newman, Enemy of the State could be construed as a “continuation of The Conversation,” the 1974 psychological thriller that starred Hackman as a paranoid, isolated surveillance expert.
The film opened at #2, behind The Rugrats Movie, grossing $20,038,573 over its first weekend in 2,393 theatres and averaging about $8,374 per venue.
An episode of PBS’ Nova titled “Spy Factory” reports that the film’s portrayal of the NSA’s capabilities are fiction: although the agency can intercept transmissions, connecting the dots is difficult. However, in 2001, then-NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden, who was appointed to the position during the release of the film, told CNN’s Kyra Philipps that “I made the judgment that we couldn’t survive with the popular impression of this agency being formed by the last Will Smith movie.” James Risen wrote in his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration that Hayden “was appalled” by the film’s depiction of the NSA, and sought to counter it with a PR campaign on behalf of the agency.
In June 2013 the NSA’s PRISM and Boundless Informant programs for domestic and international surveillance were uncovered by the Guardian and Washington Post as the result of information provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. This information revealed much more extensive capabilities than those represented by the film, such as collection of internet browsing, email and telephone data of not only every American, but citizens of other nations as well. The Guardian’s John Patterson opined that Hollywood depictions of NSA surveillance, including Enemy of the State and Echelon Conspiracy, had “softened” up the American public to “the notion that our spending habits, our location, our every movement and conversation, are visible to others whose motives we cannot know.”