A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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."
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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?
- In theaters: November 20, 1998
- On DVD or streaming: June 15, 1999
- Cast: Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Will Smith
- Director: Tony Scott
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Topics: Adventures
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and violence
- Last updated: February 25, 2021
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