Enemy of the State (1998)
It’s a great movie to watch and a great movie to talk about national security vs. civil liberties and a great movie to highlight current public opinion. It’s also fun to see Will Smith doing so well even at the beginnings of his meteoric rise. Bad Boys – Independence Day – Men in Black – Enemy of the State. Gene Hackman unofficially reprises his role as Harry Caul aka Edward Lyle. Regina King was amazing as Dean’s wife, instead of swooning at his feet she is willing to scream at him and throw him out of the house. Combine that with their other more normal interactions and she was really under-appreciated. How the hell did they keep that cat so calm? I really liked seeing Seth Green and Jack Black in non-comedic roles. RIP Tony Scott, we freakin’ loved your movies.
Digital forensics can produce amazing results and yes, the NSA is passively listening or acquiring SIGINT from anywhere it can. Those two things and their many related efforts can sometimes generate fairly amazing results. They also take a lot of manpower, a lot of money and occasionally a lot of time. Hollywood loves to condense it all into a in-real-time effect to dramatically show an unlimited reach to their surveillance. Given the relative ignorance of the audience to things like realistic capabilities of surveillance, realistic understandings of codes and ciphers, and realistic comprehension of science; movie-makers fake it to the point that it’s magical.
It’s interesting that Michael Hayden saw a PR problem through public reception of the movie and yet after being a four star general, NSA director, CIA director, principal deputy director of DNI, Chertoff group, etc. he is basically a couple murders short of being Thomas Brian Reynolds.
With revelations of the PRISM and Boundless Informant programs, who is going to argue that this movie isn’t topically relevant? Should we be more worried about a rogue faction of the NSA doing some dirty deeds (a result of lingering confusion about intelligence agencies fostered by the CIA’s spotty reputation as intelligence analyst and covert paramilitary murder machine) or should we be more worried about what they are approved to be doing even right now? The legal, checks and balances approved things.
Clearly there is a lot to think of as a result of what one would have originally expected to be a brainless shoot-em-up. And that’s one last thing to mention. The climactic, crowded Mexican standoff at the end of the movie. By this point, you want them to shoot, they want to shoot, Dean and Brill want them to shoot, Babe wants them to shoot and so they do. It’s awesome and violent and bloody and just great. I’ll ruin it for you right now though. In the midst of your cheering remember that these are men in suits and ties with respected positions in society. We’ve met their wives. We’ve seen their children. Is justice really being done? One has been threatened with prison and the other is under constant FBI surveillance. It’s an American movie set in America and yet instead of trial and due process, the audience is gifted with an expedient execution. Just because the good guys walk away doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wonder why you become incensed at all the potential for invasions of privacy and yet happily accept a room full of men being shot to death. Yes, it’s just a dumb movie (sort of but not really) but if they hadn’t taken the time to humanize the antagonists, this would never be an issue. And yet, it should be.
All in all, despite the movie magic, the most unbelievable thing was Edward Lyle’s story of why he no longer works for the NSA. Shit like that happens all the time, Iran didn’t implode overnight. There would have been plenty of warning signs for spies to leave the country. Brill and Rachel’s dad would have simply been surreptitiously exfiltrated and reassigned. The rest is fairly plausible.
p.s. I imagine that David Marconi was reminiscing on lingerie shopping around Christmas time or was playing up to the men who do or the ones sitting on benches outside of Victoria’s Secret stores. Bruckheimer realized it would make a great shot for the trailer so he green-lit the girls in undies scene.