Monday, September 06, 2010

Enemy of the State

1998, US, directed by Tony Scott

Although Tony Scott's interests often seem to be more technical and visual rather than thematic, this is the first in a string of his films that run with the idea of an ordinary - or relatively ordinary - man thrown into circumstances far beyond his normal experience. There's never much time to reflect on those experiences in a Scott film, though, given the narrative momentum, and while there are brief quiet interludes to establish the family life of Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith), the overall impression is rather breathless. Similarly, minor characters are liable to literally or figuratively dispatched once they are no longer of use to the plot.

At times, Scott's use of 1970s stalwarts like Jon Voight and - especially - Gene Hackman seems gratuitous, as though he's trying to capture something of the great films in which they played, most obviously Hackman's turn in The Conversation. I think, though, that he's also trying to suggest some continuity in the way that people feel that the state - and its many nefarious agencies - is able to intervene in their lives, with the corrupt or the misguided able to command resources for either their own benefit or what they feel to be a higher purpose. In that light, the film, though made well before 9/11, still feels remarkably fresh, although we may feel less confident in the displays of apparent technical omnipotence which feature so prominently here (and which are a source of enduring fascination for Scott, able to cut between several different versions of "real time").

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States