Enemy of the State (film)

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Enemy of the State
Enemy of the State (film) poster art.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Scott
Produced byJerry Bruckheimer
Written byDavid Marconi
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams[1]
Trevor Rabin
CinematographyDan Mindel
Edited byChris Lebenzon
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • November 20, 1998 (1998-11-20)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$90 million[2]
Box office$250.8 million[2]

Enemy of the State is a 1998 American action thriller film directed by Tony Scott, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by David Marconi. The film features an ensemble cast and stars Will Smith and Gene Hackman, with Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Gabriel Byrne, Dan Butler, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper and Regina King in supporting roles. The film tells the story of a group of National Security Agency (NSA) agents conspiring to kill a congressman and the cover-up that ensues after a tape of the murder ends up in the possession of an unsuspecting lawyer.

The film was released on November 1998 in the U.S. and worldwide by Buena Vista Pictures through its adult film label Touchstone Pictures. Enemy of the State garnered positive reviews from film critics and audiences, with many praising the writing and direction as well as the chemistry between Smith and Hackman. Given the events of 9/11, the Patriot Act and Edward Snowden's revelations about the NSA's PRISM surveillance program, the film has become noteworthy for being ahead of its time regarding issues of national security and privacy.[3]


NSA official Thomas Brian Reynolds meets with U.S. congressman Phil Hammersley in a public park to discuss support for a new counterterrorism legislation the U.S. Congress is pushing that dramatically expands the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies over individuals and groups. Hammersley remains committed to blocking its passage, wanting to protect U.S. citizens' privacy. Reynolds, wanting the bill passed to help fast-track a long-delayed promotion, has Hammersley murdered, making it appear he suffered a heart attack. Meanwhile, labor lawyer Robert Dean is involved in a case involving mafia boss Paulie Pintero. Dean meets with his ex-girlfriend, Rachel Banks, who works for "Brill", who Dean occasionally hires for undercover surveillance. She delivers a tape incriminating Pintero.

As police investigate Hammersley's murder scene, Reynolds' men notice a biologist Daniel Zavitz swapping out a camera from a remote wildlife watching station across the lake. When Zavitz views footage of the congressman's murder, he immediately contacts a journalist friend. Having identified Zavitz, Reynolds' team intercepts the call and rushes to Zavitz's apartment. Zavitz transfers the video to a disc and hides it in an electronic game device before fleeing.

In the ensuing chase, Zavitz bumps into Dean, his old college friend, at a lingerie store. Panicked, Zavitz slips the tape into Dean's shopping bag without his knowledge and runs off. When he runs into the street, Zavitz collides with a fire truck and is killed; Zavitz's journalist friend is also murdered. Reynolds' team identify Dean and believe he has the video. Posing as police officers, they arrive at Dean's house wanting to search his recent purchases. When Dean refuses, they later plant surveillance devices in the house and tracking devices within Dean's clothing. They disseminate false evidence implicating Dean of working for the mafia, money laundering, and having an affair with Rachel. The subterfuge destroys Dean's life: he is fired, his bank accounts are frozen, and his wife, Carla, throws him out.

Dean initially believes Pintero is behind the smear campaign as revenge. He believes Brill, Rachel's contact, can help him and asks her to arrange a meeting. The NSA, monitoring his call, sends an impostor to intercept Dean. The real Brill rescues Dean and warns him that the NSA is pursuing him. Brill removes the tracking devices in Dean's clothing before leaving him. After managing to escape the NSA agents, Dean returns home to warn Carla about the NSA's pursuit of him and he obtains the tape. Going to Rachel's apartment, Dean discovers that the NSA agents have killed her and have framed Dean for the murder. Regrouping with Brill, Dean is taken back to Brill's hideout in an abandoned warehouse, where Brill reveals that he is a former NSA communication analyst and he identifies Reynolds from the Hammersley murder. The NSA also identifies Brill and learns that his real name is Edward Lyle.

The NSA locates and raids the warehouse. Lyle and Dean escape but the tape is destroyed. Later, Lyle explains that he was stationed in Iran during the Iranian Revolution. His partner, Rachel's father, was killed, but Lyle escaped, and has been working covertly ever since, employing Rachel as a courier. Lyle urges Dean to go into hiding, but Dean is determined to clear his name and get his life back.

Dean and Lyle trail U.S. congressman Sam Albert, who also supports the surveillance bill, videotaping him with his mistress. Dean and Lyle plant surveillance devices in Albert's hotel room so he will find it and launch an internal investigation into himself being bugged. Lyle then deposits large sums of money into Reynolds's bank account to appear as a bribe payment.

Lyle arranges a meeting with Reynolds to exchange the tape and to get Reynolds to incriminate himself. Reynolds' men instead ambush the meeting and hold Lyle and Dean at gunpoint, demanding the tape. Dean lies and says the tape is with Pintero, knowing that Pintero's restaurant is under FBI surveillance. Dean and Reynolds enter the restaurant and meet with Pintero. Speaking ambiguously, Dean confuses both Pintero and Reynolds about the two different video tapes. The encounter escalates into a deadly shootout, killing Pintero, Reynolds and the NSA agents. During this ordeal, Lyle uses subterfuge to prod the FBI agents into raiding the restaurant. Disguised as a cop, Lyle slips away while the FBI rescues Dean and uncovers the entire conspiracy.

The U.S. Congress abandons the bill to avoid a national scandal, covering up the NSA's involvement to preserve the agency's reputation. Dean is cleared of all charges and reunites with Carla. At home, after looking at himself on the TV, Dean then sees a farewell message from Lyle, showing himself relaxing on a tropical island with his cat.



The story is set in both Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, and most of the filming was done in Baltimore. Location shooting began on a ferry in Fell's Point. In mid-January, the company moved to Los Angeles to complete production in April 1998.[4] The writers Aaron Sorkin, Henry Bean and Tony Gilroy each performed an uncredited rewrite of the script.[5]

Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise were considered for the part that went to Will Smith, who took the role largely because he wanted to work with Hackman, and had previously enjoyed working with the producer Jerry Bruckheimer on Bad Boys. George Clooney was also considered for a role in the film. Sean Connery was considered for the role that went to Hackman. The film is notable for having cast several soon-to-be stars in smaller supporting roles, which casting director Victoria Thomas credited to people's interest in working with Gene Hackman.[6]

The film's crew included a technical surveillance counter-measures consultant who also had a minor role as a spy shop merchant. Hackman had previously acted in a similar thriller about spying and surveillance, The Conversation (1974). The photo in Edward Lyle's NSA file is of Hackman in The Conversation.[7]


Box office[edit]

Enemy of the State grossed $111.5 million in the United States and $139.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $250.8 million, against a production budget of $90 million.[2]

The film opened at #2, behind The Rugrats Movie, grossing $20 million over its first weekend at 2,393 theaters, averaging $8,374 per venue.[8] It made $18.1 million in its second weekend and $9.7 million in its third, finishing third place both times.[2]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 72% based on 86 reviews, with an average rating of 6.44/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "An entertaining, topical thriller that finds director Tony Scott on solid form and Will Smith confirming his action headliner status."[9] Metacritic assigned the film a normalized score of 67 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of A– on an A+ to F scale.[11]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times expressed enjoyment in the movie, noting how its "pizazz [overcame] occasional lapses in moment-to-moment plausibility".[12] Janet Maslin of The New York Times approved of the film's action-packed sequences, but cited how it was similar in manner to the rest of the members of "Simpson's and Bruckheimer's school of empty but sensation-packed filming.[13] In a combination of the two's views, Edvins Beitiks of the San Francisco Examiner praised many of the movie's development aspects, but criticized the overall concept that drove the film from the beginning — the efficiency of government intelligence — as unrealistic.[14]

Kim Newman considered Enemy of the State a "continuation of The Conversation", the 1974 psychological thriller that starred Hackman as a paranoid, isolated surveillance expert.[15][7]

Possible television series[edit]

In October 2016, ABC announced it had green-lit a television series sequel to the film, with Bruckheimer to return as producer. The series would take place two decades after the original film, where "an elusive NSA spy is charged with leaking classified intelligence, an idealistic female attorney must partner with a hawkish FBI agent to stop a global conspiracy".[16] However, nothing ever came to fruition.

Real life[edit]

An episode of PBS' Nova titled "Spy Factory" reported that the film's portrayal of the NSA's capabilities was fiction: although the agency can intercept transmissions, connecting the dots is difficult.[17] However, in 2001, the then-NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden, who was appointed to the position during the release of the film, told CNN's Kyra Phillips that "I made the judgment that we couldn't survive with the popular impression of this agency being formed by the last Will Smith movie."[18] James Risen wrote in his 2006 book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration that Hayden "was appalled" by the film's depiction of the NSA, and sought to counter it with a PR campaign on behalf of the agency.[19]

In June 2013, the NSA's PRISM and Boundless Informant programs for domestic and international surveillance were uncovered by The Guardian and The Washington Post as the result of information provided by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. This information revealed capabilities such as collection of Internet browsing, e-mail and telephone data of not only many Americans, but citizens of other nations as well. The Guardian's John Patterson argued that Hollywood depictions of NSA surveillance, including Enemy of the State and Echelon Conspiracy, had "softened" up the American public to "the notion that our spending habits, our location, our every movement and conversation, are visible to others whose motives we cannot know".[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Enemy Of The State Music Review". Music from the Movies. 1998. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "Enemy of the State box office". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 29 June 2008.
  3. ^ "Looking back at Tony Scott's Enemy Of The State". Den Of Geek. 30 May 2013.
  4. ^ Greg Huxtable (May 2013). "ENEMY OF THE STATE - Production Notes". Cinema Review.
  5. ^ "Enemy of the State (1998)". Motion State Review. 28 November 2014.
  6. ^ Willis, John (May 2000). Screen World Volume 50 (1999 ed.). p. 162. ISBN 1-55783-410-5.
  7. ^ a b "Looking back at Tony Scott's Enemy Of The State". Den of Geek. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  8. ^ Natale, Richard (23 November 1998). "Rugrats' Outruns 'Enemy'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
    - Welkos, Robert W. (24 November 1998). "Weekend Box Office: 'Rugrats' Has Kid Power". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 November 2010.
    - Gaul, Lou (24 February 2000). "Public 'Enemy' No. 1". The Beaver County Times. p. 62. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  9. ^ "Enemy of the State Movie (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  10. ^ "Enemy of the State Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  11. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Enemy of the State" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  12. ^ Turan, Kenneth (20 November 1998). "Enemy of the State: 'Enemy' Has a Little Secret: Let the (Nifty) Chase Begin". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (20 November 1998). "Enemy of the State: The Walls Have Ears, Eyes, and Cameras". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  14. ^ Beitiks, Edvins (20 November 1998). "High-octane "Enemy'". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 25 October 2008.
  15. ^ Newman in Pramaggiore & Wallis, Film: a critical introduction, pg 283.
  16. ^ Lesley Goldberg (20 October 2013). "'Enemy of the State' TV Sequel Set at ABC". The Hollywood Reporter.
  17. ^ Bamford, James; C. Scott Willis (3 February 2009). "Spy Factory". NOVA. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  18. ^ "Inside the NSA: The Secret World of Electronic Spying". CNN. 25 March 2001.
  19. ^ Zeke J Miller (7 June 2013). "Former NSA Chief Was Worried About "Enemy Of The State" Reputation". Time.
  20. ^ John Patterson (16 June 2013). "How Hollywood softened us up for NSA surveillance". The Guardian.

External links[edit]