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Film / Enemy of the State

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Enemy of the State is a 1998 spy-thriller film directed by Tony Scott, written by David Marconi, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. The film stars Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Tom Sizemore, and Regina King.

A group of rogue operatives from the National Security Agency kill a U.S. Senator who's set to block a bill to expand the government's authority for covert surveillance, but are caught in the act by a wildlife researcher's hidden camera. The NSA finds out about the researcher's tape, and the expanding cloud of coverups, murder and surveillance sucks in Robert Clayton Dean (Smith), a labor lawyer who unwittingly has the tape passed on to him. The NSA agents proceed to bug Dean's house and belongings, ruin his marriage, and destroy his life to get him to surrender the tape. Soon, the only friend he has is the retired NSA agent "Brill" (Hackman), who's learned how paranoid you have to be in this kind of world...


Enemy of the State contains examples of:

  • '90s Hair: The former Marines brought in to act as muscle for Reynolds' team all have 90s boyband cuts. Lampshaded by Fiedler.
    Selby: Jones, Krug, what are you guys from? Communications?
    Jones: No, we're Ops.
    Fiedler: You can tell by their haircuts.
  • Action Survivor: Dean has to be this if he wants to beat his enemies. For most of the first two acts of the film he doesn't even knows how bad things are, and on the third he's pretty much the "bumbling newbie" member of the Action Duo he's formed with Brill.
  • Actor Allusion:
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  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, the US government does have all the capabilities shown in the movie (with one exceptionnote ). Well, they did. In 1988.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The movie is set up during X-mas time.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: During a car chase, Brill (driving) hands a pump-action shotgun to Dean (in the passenger's seat). Dean then leans over and points the shotgun out Brill's window to fire at the car next to them, putting the barrel of the gun just inches from Brill's face. To be fair, Dean hasn't had a lot of experience with firearms, but still ...
  • Badass Longcoat: Some Marine mooks wear longcoats. Not the best outfit to run faster, but they look cool.
    • One mook wears a plastic raincoat identical to one worn in The Conversation as an added allusion to that film.
  • Batman Gambit: Dean comes up with one, which results in a Blast Out.
  • Berserk Button: Rachel's death for Brill.
  • Big Bad: NSA official Thomas Brian Reynolds orders the murder of Congressman Phil Hammersley to stop him from blocking a bill that will allow the NSA to legally spy on citizens, and tails Robert Clayton Dean to get back a tape from him with evidence of his crime.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Basically the whole premise of the movie.
  • Billionaire Wristband: Wealthy labour lawyer Robert Clayton Dean is shown wearing an Omega wristwatch, a gift from his wife. This becomes a plot point when the villains replace it with a replica that contains a tracking device, so they can follow Dean's movements.
  • Black Helicopter: Reynolds' outfit uses these.
  • Blast Out: Dean manages to basically have the NSA agents who've already captured him and the Mafia goons from the start of the film kill each other.
  • Calling the Cops on the FBI: When Dean needs to enter Rachel's house unseen, he spots the Spies in a Van parked outside. He then calls the city cops and spins a tale about conspicuous men in a van who might be doing drugs. Queue the spies when they hear the call on the police radio:
    • Later in the film, Dean more or less calls the FBI on the NSA, via leading the latter into a Mafia-owned restaurant the Feds happen to be surveilling.
  • Cameo: Jason Robards as Phil Hammersley
    • Used to good effect (provided you haven't seen the trailer) when Gabriel Byrne briefly appears, pretending to be Brill.
  • Chekhov's Army: The Pintero Crime Family, and the FBI guys watching them.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: The spying devices initially used on Dean are turned around against a congressman and the NSA director, then are once more used against Dean in the finale, but this time as a more comedic event.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The lingerie Dean bought for his wife. When it comes up later in the film it is initially played as a Brick Joke, but it hints Dean to the fact that it was at the lingerie store where Zavitz dropped the incriminating footage in Dean's shopping bag, realizing he indeed had it all along and his son later took it.
  • Conspiracy Thriller: With all the digital technology that fuels conspiracies since 1990.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: The Blast Out at the climax begins when, after Pintero, Reynolds and their respective goons pull guns on each other, Krug comes out of cover to order Pintero's men to stand down with his SMG, gets blown away from behind by a cook with a double-barreled shotgun, and starts blasting in his death throes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Reynolds has his moments. One of his underlings mentions in passing that Dean's wife is attached to the ACLU, and he quips:
    Reynolds: Well I suppose [Zavitz] could have given [the tape] directly to Bob Woodward.
  • Defector from Decadence: Brill. He used to be an NSA surveillance man, and then decided to quit when his friend was killed in action.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Dean mentions how hard it was to grow up without a father and doesn't want to put his family through that.
    • After his last mission went wrong, Brill presumably became to his family, though it's left unclear if he has any children.
    • On the above mentioned mission, Rachel's father, Brill's partner, died when she was a child.
    • Both Reynolds and Pintero become this to their children after their fight ends in both of their deaths.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: Inverted when Dean is called before his bosses at the law firm over allegations against him:
    Silverberg: We were told to look back on your files as far as the electrician strike. We believe that you helped a man named Sam Velotti form a company called Zurich.
    Blake: We also found out about your connection with the Peitzo family.
    Dean: Well, that's true.
    Silverberg: You're admitting to it?
    Dean: Sure. Everything except forming a company called Zurich, or knowing anybody who is named Sam Velotti, or having any connection, whatsoever, to the Peitzo family.
  • Enemy Mine: Used by Dean to get rid of the NSA.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Brill and Dean try to catch Reynolds admitting to the murders. It doesn't work—Reynolds spends too much time giving a spiel about how the world is going to the dogs and espionage has become more important than ever and manages to buy time for his goons to track the radio frequency of the heroes' Hidden Wire and catch them both.
  • Enhance Button: It can even let them look at things blocked by the camera's view, though it gets a Hand Wave by saying that they are merely looking at extrapolations based on surrounding elements such as shadows, and assumptions, such as them presuming that a shadow might be cast by an object they suspect is blocked from view. Oddly, this technology is not compatible with Spy Satellites.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Reynolds is usually shown in the accompany of his wife, who he cares for.
    • Pintero is a Mob boss, but near the climax, it's shown he has a wife and two sons he adores.
  • Evil Is Petty: The NSA goons steal Dean's blender while they're messing up his house, just because it's a nice blender.
  • Exact Words: The Batman Gambit that enables the climactic Blast Out happens because Pintero has a tape (Brill's surveillance that gave Dean the leverage to negotiate on behalf of the people Pintero was strong-arming at the beginning) and Reynolds wants a tape (the recording that shows the assassination of the Congressman, which has been destroyed) and Dean remains vague enough when introducing them that Pintero assumes Reynolds is the man who made the tape coming to blackmail him and Reynolds thinks that Dean gave the tape to The Mafia, pissing them both off.
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: The NSA tracking interface runs on it.
  • Fanservice: The lingerie models, Dean's wife in the lingerie, and Dean himself. All of those examples are justified by the plot.
  • Faking and Entering:
    • Dean pretends to be a deliveryman to enter a hotel room and delay his pursuit.
    • Reynolds' goons thrash Dean's house, both because they're looking for the hidden file (they don't find it because Dean's kid took the videogame that it was hidden inside) and so they can place bugs in both the house and Dean's clothes without anyone questioning any inconsistencies. They also steal his blender, just because.
  • Government Conspiracy: More specifically, of the NSA.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Brill, though it's entirely justified.
  • Hastily Hidden MacGuffin: Much of the suspense hinges around a wildlife researcher's video recorder that captured NSA Chief Reynolds killing a congressman who opposed Reynolds' Stalinist domestic surveillance program. The wildlife researcher sees what's been recorded, and runs for his life from pursuing agents. He's able to dump the video into the shopping bag of labor lawyer Robert Dean before being killed. Later, the magic Enhance Button is able to determine that Dean now holds the incriminating video.
  • He Knows Too Much: Subverted. See Revealing Cover-Up.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Daniel's attempt at escape.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dean and Brill use stolen NSA spying equipment to make Reynolds look like he's spying on a senator. They also turn the same tactics used to discredit Dean on Reynolds, making his life miserable so he'll try to cut a deal. Brill compares it to guerilla warfare.
  • Hopeless with Tech: Dean, at least as far as Brill is concerned:
    Brill: In your phone was a GPS sat-tracker. Pulses at 24 gigahertz.
    Dean: I don't know what that means.
    Brill: It's like a LoJack, only two generations better than what the police have.
    Dean: And what does that mean?
    Brill: (frustrated) You speak English?
    Brill: Kind of a jerk, aren't ya? It means the NSA can read the time off your fucking wristwatch. You have something they want!
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: The wildlife researcher who dumps the video onto Dean. The subsequent drama that ensues is because Dean doesn't even knows he has the video for a chunk of the film.
  • Improperly Paranoid: All of the hell that Dean suffers is because Reynolds takes one look at his history (lawyer, connections to various civil groups, friend of the guy that filmed the video), and the situation (random meeting after many years of not seeing in the middle of a chase, Daniel puts the videogame where he hid the video inside Dean's bag in a moment of desperation, Dean puts his foot down when his goons get too rash with their questions when they arrive to his house faking being cops) and immediately assumes "informant that will try to destroy my plans".
  • Impersonating an Officer: Brill uses a Baltimore PD uniform as a disguise to meet with the bad guys. Becomes a Chekhov's Gun when an FBI surveillance team sees him being ushered out of a van in front of a Mafia front they are doing surveillance on.
  • Insistent Terminology: Paulie Pintero refers to Dean as a "shyster" lawyer. Dean politely corrects him, saying that "shyster" is for Jewish people, and as a person of African-American descent, he would be an "eggplant". This is, in fact, a term used by people of Italian descent to refer to people of color.
  • Ironic Echo: "You're either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid."
  • I Warned You: When Dean tells his wife their house, car, phones, etc. have all been bugged, she angrily reminds him she knew something like this might happen (which she had), to which he replies "This is not the time for the 'I told you so' speech."
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Brill might be a Grumpy Old Man, but he has great affection for his cat.
  • Knight Templar: Reynolds sees himself as this. Though it also turns out he is hoping for career advancement if the privacy bill passes.
    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.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: When Dean and Carla have reunited at the end:
    Carla: (watching Congressman Albert admit they need to monitor the people monitoring their enemies) Well, who's gonna monitor the monitors of the monitors?
    Dean: I wouldn't mind doing a little *monitoring* myself.
    Carla: (looks at him) Yes, and you've got lots and lots of *monitoring* to do.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Like what Reynolds and his men did to him, Dean puts monitoring devices in Reynolds' home as well framing him for cheating and canceling his credit cars.
  • Leno Device: A Republican congressman appears on Larry King.
  • Lingerie Scene: Both models in a lingerie shop and Dean's wife. And it's plot-relevant both times.
  • Look Both Ways: Zavitz, the wildlife researcher.
  • The Mafia: Dean starts by investigating one arm in DC and uses them later on to get rid of the NSA agents.
  • Magical Security Cam: Used by Reynolds' outfit.
  • Malicious Slander: Dean is victim of this.
  • Mexican Standoff: On a grand scale. Apparently played for laughs too when you know both parties are being suckered big time.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Justified. Carla suspects Dean of having an affair with Rachel not only due to the NSA sending her incriminating evidence of the two, but also because, four years prior, Dean did have an affair with her.
  • Mister Muffykins: Dean's wife's stupid little dog, Porsche (which looks just like the one in the photo on that page!) Dean clearly can't stand it (who could?)
  • Obligatory Earpiece Touch: The NSA agents pursuing videographer Zavitz all have earpieces, mainly to receive updates from spy satellite pics taken by Mission Control. One agent in particular expects the target to emerge on his street, and fingers his earpiece because he's on a busy, noisy midtown Baltimore thoroughfare. He gets the brotherly counsel from Mission Control: "Turn around, you idiot." Ah, teamwork.
  • On Second Thought: Carla is watching Congressman Albert talk about the need for increased surveillance on their enemies.
    Dean: He's got a point there, sweetie.
    Carla: (gives him a Death Glare) Bobby!
    Dean: I mean, who is this idiot, anyway?
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Dean engineers a meeting between the NSA and the mafiosi from the beginning of the movie. Neither party realizes that they're talking about two different tapes.
  • Only in It for the Money: Brill pretends to be like this to try and get Reynolds to make an Engineered Public Confession. It doesn't work.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Zavitz's death kickstarts the rest of the plot.
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: And one that came out three years before 9/11. A modern viewer watching the film without knowing its year of release would probably assume it was a political thriller made as a heavy-handed reaction to the events in question, and would likely be surprised to learn it was released in the late 90s.
    • What's even stranger is that Reynolds' birthday is—get this—9/11. How's that for a significant date.
  • Properly Paranoid : Brill. Then again, he used to be a spook as well. Also see the Tag Line.
  • Psycho for Hire: Krug and Jones, the two ex-military cutouts Reynolds asks for, a pair of dishonorably discharged marines who were jailed for beating up their Gunnery Sergeant. Particularly Jones, who is not sorry about it.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The technicians who work for Reynolds (one of them even seems to take a vacation for the rest of the movie - see 'What Happened to the Mouse?')
  • Revealing Cover-Up: Dean actually knows nothing about the disk he has, and only starts investigating when the NSA goons start leaning on him.
  • Running Gag: Dean's blender, which is stolen by the NSA goons.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The premise of the movie.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Zavitz only had a minor one, but (accidentally) got the evidence that showed Reynolds and his men killing Hammersly. And he put the copy inside Dean's bag...
  • Spies in a Van: At a certain point, Dean decides to shoot 'em back by calling the cops about "a van in front of my house, possibly trafficking drugs!" Hilarity Ensues.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Conversation, to the point it's not hard to assume that Gene Hackman's characters in both movies are the same person. The scene where Dean and Rachel meet to discuss Brill on a park and the NSA goons try to listen in to their conversation is essentially an updated version of the older film's opening scene.
  • The Spook: Brill was out of the grid for 18 years.
  • Spotting the Thread: Dean becomes suspicious of Brill due to a verbal slip up. The real Brill rescues him shortly after.
  • Spy Satellites: One major limitation is pointed out: the satellites are only terribly useful if the person you are trying to track ever looks up. Brill makes a point of keeping his head level and wearing a baseball cap.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands: To the point where they can look at things explicitly out of the camera's view. At the same time, Spy Satellites seem very limited (they can't catch somebody's face unless he's looking straight up), yet on a later scene they allegedly were in perfect position to flawlessly film the travel of a single car from a random spot on suburban Pennsylvania all the way to its parking spot multiple miles away and that all it takes to review this intel is the coordinates of where it started to roll and its make, model and color.
  • Tag Line: "It's not paranoia if they're really after you."
  • Take Off Your Clothes: Brill asks this to Dean because they are bugs hidden inside them, even his shoes. Eventually he does... to the enjoyment of an Asian lady.
  • Television Geography: The Baltimore and DC locations change pretty quickly...
  • Train Escape: Brill's car breaks near the tracks, forcing him and Reynolds to escape hiding between the passing trains.
  • Training "Accident": Or at least that was how they planned it to look like.
  • Tropical Epilogue: Brill's character in a video message.
  • The Unfettered: Reynolds, who will do anything he considers necessary to protect his country, and his career. Which includes having people killed (at one point he almost does it himself). His goal here is to create even more of a surveillance society by getting the privacy bill passed by Congress, because America is constantly under threat.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Reynolds certainly gives the impression of believing that he has the best interests of national security at heart, but he's still a corrupt murderer. Subverted when we overhear his wife say that if the privacy bill passes a consequence is that he will likely be promoted, pushing him into a Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Seth Green (the techie who leads the mobile surveillance team) just completely disappears halfway through the film, with no word of explanation. With what he must have known, surely he wasn't someone they'd let zip off somewhere. Did Green suddenly become unavailable halfway through filming?
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: One of the aesops of the film.
    Congressman: We knew that we had to monitor our enemies. We've also come to realize that we need to monitor the people who are monitoring them.
    Carla: Well, who's going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?
  • Wrongfully Accused: Dean. After he's framed for the murder of Rachel Banks so he's easier to catch.
  • Wrong Insult Offence: Dean, to the mob:
    Actually, I believe the slur "shyster" is generally reserved for Jewish attorneys. I believe the proper slur for someone like myself would be "eggplant".