Okay so what we get from Enemy of the State is classic late 90’s: fear of the progression of technology and the government, and Will Smith just kicking ass. Also it’s crazy that Men in Black came out just the year before because they are SO SIMILAR- it’s the pairing of a young inexperienced Will Smith with a cantankerous mentor-ish older white man whom he has to work with to defeat some evil that could largely effect the general population but they’re unaware of.
In this movie Will Smith plays Robert Clayton Dean, (sounds like the fiance of a bank heiress but whatever 1998) a lawyer who is an all around good guy just trying to do the right thing. He is married to Regina King (Carla Dean- that name sounds like a housewife/breakfast sausage) who is such a great character, she’s outspoken about this bill that politicians in the movie are trying to pass, which is basically the Patriot Act- it’s a bill saying that the government can tap the phones/computer/pagers (1998 remember) of anyone involved in one of their investigations. Carla is not about this and she’s railing against it, but Will Smith, CCC man that he is (cool, calm, collected- that’s not a thing, I just made that up, but maybe some day) is like, “baby I don’t care lemme just blend this juice in peace.” Actually. He is actually really into blending juice for some reason in this movie. Then when the NSA people break into his house they steal his blender and keep it in their surveillance van, then when they’re spying on everyone they blend juice. It’s actually really funny and odd and never really mentioned.
So basically, main conflict- Jon Voight (Angelina Jolie’s DAD who she is estranged from, and from watching this movie I can kind of see why- sorry that’s so horrible but truth in comedy. Anyway) is this evil politician and he really wants this security bill to pass because he’s evil and wants to do evil things with it, but this other congressman who is good (he has a labrador-evil people can’t own those) doesn’t want to pass it. So Jon Voight does what any evil politician does when someone gets in his way, he murders him. Well he doesn’t, Barry Pepper does (the bible quoting sniper from Saving Private Ryan? Remember him? Well, he’s evil now) with a NEEDLE TO THE NECK. Then they push him in his car with some heart medication and roll the whole thing into a river to make it look like he had a heart attack. BUT a very young and beard-y Jason Lee, is this nature/birdwatcher guy and he has set up a “Hide” which is a hidden camera to observe birds. So he collects his hidden tape and finds not only sparrows mating but a MURDER! But someone who was involved in the clean up saw him so they all start chasing him to get this tape back/kill him. Because once you start murdering, what’s one more?
This is where Will Smith comes in. He is doing some Christmas shopping (!!! I love watching movies at the same time they are set) for his wife and he’s in this lingerie store which might also be a clandestine brothel because there are all these beautiful women walking around in their underwear and I’ve been bra shopping plenty of times and I’ve never seen that. But hey! It’s a movie, we all enjoy it. SO Jason Lee runs into this store/sex shop and runs into Robert Carlton Dean (such a fancy name) and they went to Georgetown together so he’s like, “Help me” and Will Smith is like, “I don’t know how!” and so Jason Lee runs away because these NSA guys are chasing him, but before he does he drops the copy of the tape he made (which is on some sort of floppy disk that he copied from VHS on a special machine- you really do forget how different it was, I was like hello does no one have a flash drive in DC but then I remembered) into Will Smith’s shopping/presents bags. Then he rides a bike in front of an ambulance and gets killed (irony).
The NSA people realize that he gave Will Smith the tape because JACK BLACK is a tech savvy consultant person with a headset the entire movie and he does some weird camera angle graph computer thing and shows how the shape/weight of the bag shifted after Jason leaves. So odd. So they send someone to Will’s house, but he doesn’t know he has it AND they ask him about Rachel Banks who is Lisa Bonet (beautiful beautiful beautiful) this woman he dated in college AND who he had an affair with four years ago!!!! But he and his wife went to counseling and they got over it, but he still does business with her sometimes and it upsets his wife.
sidenote: this seems a very ambitious character complication that movies today wouldn’t attempt in an action movie hero/protagonist. I feel like the most complication we get is a moment of temptation that isn’t acted on, or is but is trivialized and made not to seem a big deal (James Bond) to make a character who cheated on his wife then atoned for this mistake and came out the good guy on the other end is something I think shows a nuance in storytelling and a trust between character and audience that is really rare now and mainly absent from large blockbuster films. But I digress.
Will Smith does business with Rachel Banks because she is his contact to a faceless man named “Brill” who gets him footage to prosecute mobsters and other things he can’t get. So of course when he realizes he has this tape he tries to get help from Brill through Rachel, but she just ends up caught in the crossfire, (or more accurately dead in the crossfire) and gets murdered by the US Government (their body count at the end of this movie is crazy high) and then Will Smith and Gene Hackman have this sort of heartfelt/awkward scene where they’re trying to outrun this helicopter that’s shooting at them in the middle of a train yard, but they’re also fighting? But somehow they come out on top and they run away together. Gene Hackman takes Will Smith to his technology fortress where he tells him he used to be a member of the NSA until his partner got killed (Rachel’s dad) and the government fucked him so he went into hiding and just took care of her.
Anyway, a lot of shit happens and there’s a lot of hidden cameras & wiretaps and basically we get to this point where Will Smith and Gene Hackman are both caught, they’re in this NSA van of impending doom-oh by the way the other operative tech guys are JAMIE KENNEDY and SETH GREEN. It’s just genius casting, you have all these comedians in this action movie so the tone of it is really interesting. Also Scott Caan is in this movie and I literally love him, he is so great in everything he does and so underrated-but they’re in the van and they have NO PLAN because the tape got destroyed back at the train yard and it’s their only leverage and they tried to trick Jon Voight into confessing while they were taping it but it didn’t work so they really have nothing but then GENIUS Will Smith takes them to this mob restaurant where he went in the beginning of the movie because there’s this guy there who was beating up union workers or something (I can never tell in movies if unions are a good thing or a bad thing) anyway there’s this tape of him that Will Smith has that he was trying to bribe him with to get him to do what he wants because it shows him breaking his parole and he could go back to prison for like 15 years BLAH BLAH BLAH.
Anyway. He brings Jon Voight in there and they both talk back and forth at each other about “the tape” and who’s going to get it, never realizing they’re talking about two completely different things (dramatic irony!!!!!) and then everyone pulls out their guns and starts shooting everything and Will Smith jumps under the table, like a tablecloth is going to shield him from gunfire, BUT IT DOES and then he gets out right as the FBI are coming in (bc they were watching the mob, i.e. the restaurant) and then he goes home to his wife, and Gene Hackman escapes with his cat (I don’t even know).
The last scene in the movie is Will Smith watching TV with his family and he and his wife are using the word ‘monitoring’ as sexual innuendo and their son just goes, “Are you guys talking about sex?” so the son and the wife leave after everyone has a little chuckle about how grown up he’s getting Ha Ha Ha! Kids. Then Will Smith is changing the channels on his TV and one of the channels is a livefeed of his living room then it cuts to a beach and Gene Hackman’s legs in the ocean, then written in the sand it says “Wish You Were Here” (they’re apparently both Pink Flyod fans) and Will Smith says, “I do too man.” Then that’s the end of the movie. No neat wrap up where everything is answered and taken care of and everyone is happy- it’s left pretty open-ended. Like the government isn’t actively trying to kill them anymore but that’s the only thing that’s resolved. And this is another one of those things that I think is complicated story-telling that doesn’t happen as often today, especially in action type thrillers- we’re used to at the end, huge sweeping strokes of luck to befall the characters and all their problems tidily solved. I was happy this movie didn’t do that.