Enemy of the State

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Enemy of the State Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Late-'90s action movie has frequent profanity, violence.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 132 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While the movie is filled with messages on the scope and reach of surveillance in our society, the primary focus is the action itself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While an argument could be made that at least two of these characters are resisting the intrusiveness of the surveillance society as manifested by the NSA, these characters are also action-movie archetypes straight out of the Jerry Bruckheimer school of late '90s formulaic blockbuster movies.


Frequent action-movie violence. A man on a bike is shown being killed by riding in front of a fire truck. During the opening credits, a series of car crashes are shown overhead. A woman is found dead in her bathroom from an apparent suicide. Frequent explosions and gunfire. A man gets shot in the head. Characters shoot at each other from point-blank range, resulting in numerous deaths.


A Congressman is spied on in his hotel room receiving oral sex from a woman; while no body parts are shown, the motions and gestures make it obvious what is happening. After being asked questions about an extramarital affair he has had by his employers, the lead character asks one of them if he masturbates in the shower. During a scene in a lingerie store, a female employee dressed in lingerie asks the lead character for the breast size of his wife. His wife is later shown in the lingerie as they begin to flirt in a provocative manner. When the lead character and his wife make insinuations about having sex, their young son asks, "Are you guys talking about sex?"


Frequent profanity. The f-word is used on a regular basis. Members of the mafia refer to an African-American lawyer as an "eggplant." Italian-Americans are referred to as "guidos."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pills are placed around a politician's head to look like a suicide after he is murdered.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Enemy of the State is a 1998 action movie with frequent profanity, action-style violence, and sexual content, including references to oral sex and infidelity. While the movie does show the machinations of a pre-9/11 government agency determined to a ruin the life and credibility of a man in possession of filmed evidence of spies killing a Congressman, the primary focus is on the nonstop action. There are also racial slurs: an African-American lawyer is referred to as an "eggplant," and Italian-American mobsters are called "guidos." 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCastellanos July 18, 2009
Enemy of the State is a very well made political thriller. Will Smith is a terrific actor, as always, and the rest of the cast are very good too. Enemy of the S... Continue reading
Adult Written bytechteacher5 May 7, 2012

Educational use here...

This movie came from an era of soft "R" ratings when there was a lot of violence and swearing in movies. As far as todays standards go, this would be... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bylolokboomer December 28, 2019

Action packed

It is very action packed much like jason bourne. some swearing, some violence but you can’t really see anything. there is one sex scene but you can’t see anythi...
Teen, 14 years old Written byVadesNYC August 24, 2021

What's the story?

Will Smith stars as Bobby Dean, a successful Washington lawyer. An old acquaintance of Dean, on the run from the NSA, drops a computer disk into Dean's Christmas packages just before he is killed. Dean does not know that he has the disk, much less that the disk proves that CIA operatives killed a Congressman (an unbilled Jason Robards) because he opposed their plans to expand surveillance. Dean quickly becomes a target of the NSA, whose agents break into his house and vandalize his belongings, freeze his bank account and credit cards, and send pictures of him with a woman he had once had an affair with to his wife and employer. On the run from the NSA, Dean meets Edward Lyle (Gene Hackman), a former NSA surveillance agent who is now "off the grid" and trying to destabilize the intrusiveness on civil liberties that the NSA has undertaken. Lyle reluctantly agrees to help Dean get his life back, and together they turn the tables on the NSA, using their own weapons against them.

Is it any good?

It isn't a bad action movie, but it does adhere to the typical action movie structure, despite the messages and debate about a very important topic throughout the movie. The blockbuster production values firmly place this film in the late '90s, but the acting from Will Smith, Jon Voight, Gene Hackman, and the rest of the mostly all-star cast keeps the action sequences from veering into action-movie cliches.

ENEMY OF THE STATE attempts to be both an action movie in the typical bombastic overblown Jerry Bruckheimer style of the late 1990s, as well as a movie conveying a message on the depth and breadth of the surveillance state and the damage it can inflict on American citizens believed to be "national security threats." While it does an effective job of debating the pros and cons of expanded surveillance (and this is three years before 9/11), and shows the extent top-secret government agencies can infiltrate one's privacy, it's still a slightly dated action movie. Overall, though, it should inspire active discussion from mature teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the issues raised by balancing the right to privacy with the need for protection. How does this movie convey this message?

  • How does the movie attempt to balance its message of showing the extent and scope of the surveillance state with the need to be an entertaining action movie?

  • Do you think this movie would have been much different if it had come out after 9/11? Why or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

Themes & Topics

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