Enemy of the State-You are being watched
How do we draw the line – draw the line between protection of national security, obviously the government’s need to obtain intelligence data, and the protection of civil liberties, particularly the sanctity of my home? You’ve got no right to come into my home!- Larry King
(Spoiler Alert- Some key scenes and moments of the movie are discussed in the post, reader please note).
In one of the scenes in Enemy of the State, when NSA agents are trying to get the information on a certain “Brill”, the file shows up a picture of Gene Hackmann from The Conversation. The reference is not just a nod to the 70’s thrillers; it in a way is a tribute to the theme of the movie itself. Francis Ford Copolla’s 1974 conspiracy thriller had Gene Hackmann, as a surveillance expert, living a lonely life, and whose only other hobby is playing jazz. In one of the most devastating movie endings ever, Hackmann suspects his own apartment is bugged, tears it down to discover signs of any surveillance, and then sits amidst the wreck, playing the saxophone. It is not just the fact that Hackmann who played the surveillance expert Caul in The Conversation, does a similar turn here in Tony Scott’s thriller. Pretty much like Caul in The Conversation, Hackmann’s Brill is a loner, paranoid of strangers. His utilitarian, no frills workshop is pretty much similar to the one he works in The Conversation. The 70’s was a decade when Hollywood came up with a whole lot of conspiracy thrillers. Watergate had created a paranoia in the average citizen, that they were being watched by the Government, of shadowy agents indulging in conspiracy on their own lives and a distrust of Government in general. Chinatown, Parallax View, All the President’s Men, 3 Days of the Condor, a whole slew of movies, exploring the link between Capitol Hill, big business, media, CIA, Feds trying to subvert the laws for their own purposes came up in succession.
We never dealt with domestic. With us, it was always war. We won the war. Now we’re fighting the peace. It’s a lot more volatile. Now we’ve got ten million crackpots out there with sniper scopes, sarin gas and C-4. Ten-year-olds go on the Net, downloading encryption we can barely break, not to mention instructions on how to make a low-yield nuclear device. Privacy’s been dead for years because we can’t risk it. The only privacy that’s left is the inside of your head. Maybe that’s enough. You think we’re the enemy of democracy, you and I? I think we’re democracy’s last hope.
On the surface of it, Enemy of the State, looks like any other “man on the run” genre movie. Innocent man wanted by the bad guys goes on a run, lots of chases, high voltage action scenes, tension filled dramatics you have it all. Like most other Tony Scott movies, this movie has enough adrenaline to keep the action fans satisfied, couple of chase scenes, a warehouse explosion and the final shootout. However there are no really big twists there, Scott establishes the villain of the piece right at the start of the movie. In this case it is National Security Agency official Thomas Reynolds(Jon Voight), a National Security Agency official, seeking to get the approval of Congress for a new bill, that would increase surveillance powers. The catch here though is a senior Congressman, Phil Hamersley( veteran actor Jason Robards in an uncredited appearance), who opposes a bill “that allows the NSA to point a camera and a microphone at anything they damn well feel like”. Hamersley’s deposition is critical to the passage of the bill, as he is a negotiator on the sub Committee that is studying the said bill. Predictably, one of Reynold’s henchmen, bumps off Hamersley, and plants evidence to make it look like an accidental death. There is a slight catch there though, the murder has been inadvertently recorded on the camera set up by a wildlife researcher Daniel Zavitz( Jason Lee), to capture birds in the park.
In the old days, we actually had to tap a wire into your phone line. Now with calls bouncing off satellites, they snatch’em right out of the air. That was 20 years ago.
The murder scene is followed by a rather interesting opening credits scene, with shots of satellite tracking cams, spy cams, images recorded on web camera. As a series of jump cuts, blurred images, intercut with shots of satellite tracking, pass by in a dizzying blur, Tony Scott, sets up the basic premise of the movie “You are being watched”, an almost 1984 Orwellian landscape. In fact throughout the movie the spy satellite, tracking us from outer space, forms the basic leitmotif of the movie, playing a major role in most of the scenes. Take the scene where Zavitz is chased to his death by Robards men, the way Scott sets it up. In an earlier scene, when TV news channels are covering the “accidental death” of Hamersley, one of Robard’s lackeys, observes Zavitz taking out the camera he had set up. Zavitz himself is not aware of the potentially explosive information that the video recording had. We see through a series of jump cuts, zooming shots, the NSA tracking down Zavitz’s home, a certain Jack Black here as one of the phone tappers. It is the scene where Zavitz is chased by Robard’s lackeys, that is however brilliantly shot by Tony Scott. It is not just the adrenaline and tempo, or the tension, it is the way Scott keeps intercutting scenes of Zavitz being chased with that of the satellite tracking him from outer space, the aerial map like shots of the city streets. In a way, the spy satellite turns out to be the main character, towering over every one literally speaking, and having the power to change one’s destiny. In fact throughout the movie, the feel is certainly Orwellian, of a nightmarish scenario, where you are being watched, tracked, your every moment recorded.
Fort Meade has 18 acres of mainframe computers underground. You’re talking to your wife on the phone and you use the word “bomb”, “president”, “Allah”, any of a hundred keywords, the computer recognizes it, automatically records it, red-flags it for analysis. That was 20 years ago.
And that nightmare is just about to begin for Robert Dean( Will Smith), a labour lawyer, living what seems the American dream, well off, a nice happy family, wife, kids, a nice looking home. Scott sets up certain aspects of Dean’s life early on though, his relationship with Rachel Banks( Lisa Bonet), his ex girlfriend, now his professional acquaintance, the mention of the mysterious “Brill” whose assistance Dean needs for a case. When Zavitz fleeing from the goons, stumbles upon Dean in a store, he drops in the cassette containing the incriminating recording into his bag. Dean is unaware of the cassette’s contents, and equally unaware of the nightmare that is in store for him, as he comes back, looking forward to a nice Christmas with wife and son. Unaware to Dean however, in the NSA office, his details are being tracked on a computer, as his details start coming out. It is scary to see the computer, give out each and every detail of Dean, from his bank transactions, insurance policies, credit history, tax returns, nothing is private. It is like your whole life is open up to display, by some people in a Govt agency, who could use it against you. Dean has the incriminating evidence, that could nail Robards, he does not even know it, but NSA does, and right now he is the biggest threat, an “enemy of the state”. Without knowing it, every detail of Dean’s activities are being recorded, his phone is tapped. Again another superb scene follows, where the spy satellites track down the scene of the accident, and through recordings establish that Dean indeed has that evidence. “Big brother is watching you” could never have been more prophetic.
Dean’s home is raided by the team, bugs, special cameras are placed all over, when he returns back home with wife Stacy, he is shocked to see the entire home ransacked. He is however unaware that right at the moment a camera installed in his home is tracking him. In fact throughout the movie Tony Scott, keeps driving home the point, “You are being watched” with the constant close-ups of spy cameras, satellites. Unable to get the clinching evidence from Dean, NSA deploys its dirty tricks department to wreck Dean’s life. They hoist a case of Dean passing confidential information to his ex girl Rachel, put out the story in the newspapers, fix him up. In a matter of hours Dean’s entire life is turned upside down, he is fired from his job, publicly disgraced, his wife leaves him, a total fuck up in all ways. A past affair Dean had outside marriage with Rachel comes back to haunt him, wrecking both his personal and professional life. And that is just the beginning of his woes, none of his credit cards work, means he is unable to book himself into any hotel. His ATM card is disabled, he can’t withdraw money either. In fact it just shows our over dependence on technology, what would happen one fine day, if everything just stops working. Add to it, Dean gets no cooperation from people, who in fact take a vicarious delight in a lawyer getting his just desserts. With Rachel expressing her helplessness, considering she herself is being tracked, the only one who can help Dean out is “Brill”.
The government’s been in bed with the entire telecommunications industry since the forties. They’ve infected everything. They get into your bank statements, computer files, email, listen to your phone calls… Every wire, every airwave. The more technology used, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you. It’s a brave new world out there. At least it’d better be.
After an encounter with a fake “Brill”, that almost kills him, Dean comes in touch with the real “Brill” who in fact is an ex NSA agent Edward Lyle( Gene Hackmann), reclusive, shadowy, not too visible. One of the best scenes in the movie follows here. On one side, the NSA agents trying to track down Dean and you have Lyle helping him out. The problem is every part of Dean has been rigged up, his shoes, his wallets, his coat, his pants, of which he is unaware. Lyle helps Dean to remove every part of his attire to throw his chasers off track. Scott uses a mix of jump cuts, intercutting shots, freeze frames, as on one hand, every time Dean removes one of the tracing devices on his body, it goes off on the monitor. And it comes to the stage where Dean is just in his shorts and underwear, and there is another chase scene, with him escaping his pursuers dressed just in a robe, dodging escaping cars.
Enemy of the State, has all the ingredients that would satisfy hard core popcorn action fans, some breathtakingly filmed chase scenes, a man on the run, an old wizened veteran assisting him in turning the tables, a bunch of ruthless villains who would stop at nothing and a Mexican standoff climax. Unlike more cerebral movies like The Conversation, All The President’s Men, this one is more of a fast and furious action, that leaves you on the edge of the seat. But beneath all that furious action, lies an underlying message that keeps staring at us in the face. Considering the fact that Dean was being targeted and chased just because he had an incriminating evidence, the fact that one fine day you could be targeted makes it so scary. You see the computer spitting out all the details of Dean, his personal, professional, financial ones, and you just feel that bit concerned that some one somewhere is watching your records too. And it’s not just a paranoia too, consider what is happening around us. The news we get to hear of people’s accounts on Social media sites being monitored, blocked in some cases. and if you happen to be a dissident against the Government policies, the chances of you being tracked are that much more. As Lyle mentions it’s a brave new world out there and scary too.
Tony Scott has a thing or two for casting the right actors in the right roles. Gene Hackmann had earlier played the role of a surveillance expert in The Conversation, and his role is what gives the strength to the movie. In fact the true hero of the movie, he is the one who guides Will Smith around, plots the strategy against the bad guys, outwits them. And Hackmann just chews up the scenery with relish, this is a role that is just tailor made for him. Will Smith gives an equally good performance, as the helpless ordinary American guy, who gets caught up in an extraordinary mess beyond his control. The movie has a strong supporting cast too, Jack Black as a communications expert who taps other’s conversations, Jon Voight as the master villian, pitching in with some real good performances.