Wednesday, November 25, 1998

Enemy of the State

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 1998 at 12:00 AM

An innocent camera records the crime. Successive frame enlargements reveal the criminal. The scene -- of decoding through enlargement -- brings back memories of similar incidents: the dead body discovered by the carefree photographer in Blow-Up; the replicant's reflection in the mirror projected on the solitary and obedient screens of Blade Runner.

In possession of the tape, an innocent man becomes a hunted man without history, family or identity. Exhilarating, stylish, terrifying in its proportions, sophisticated in its precise satellite imagery, the hunt -- a Dangerous Game indeed -- dissolves the illusion of privacy. "The only privacy you get is on the inside of your head," says Brill (Gene Hackman), a private detective exiled of his own accord inside the protective space of a surveillance laboratory. More than 20 years after The Conversation, Hackman's restrained performance resurrects a certain kind of fear: the conviction that, however secure, the fortresses whose refuge we seek are nothing but transparent glass walls, defenseless before the impertinent eye of the camera.

There are cameras everywhere: inside smoke detectors, behind mirrors, connected to the television set. Every gesture is monitored, every word recorded, every phone call traced. It's just another kind of violence and not the end of it, as Gabriel Byrne's cameo appearance suggests.

Trapped inside a conspiracy whose implications he doesn't even begin to suspect, Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith), an innocent man surrounded by armies of innocent men, learns the hard way that "the truth" is not "out there." His identity canceled and his credibility ruined, Dean is left to fight alone this intricate net of political aspirations which translates into patterns of incredibly violent behavior.

Violence and violation, truth and fiction, real and constructed identities are categories separated by a thin and vulnerable line, easily crossed in Enemy of the State. There is no end to the righteous rage of a government that has lost its sense of proportion, director Tony Scott (The Hunger, True Romance) suggests. A recurring shot of a satellite orbiting the earth is both an illustration of this fact and a sinister reminder of a progressive global loss of privacy.

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