Who's the biggest male movie star in the known universe today -- Tom Cruise? Brad Pitt? Mel Gibson? Tom Hanks? Forget about it. It's Will Smith. Or at least that's what the entertainment pundits are proclaiming lately. Unfettered by the "crazy" label currently dragging down Cruise and Gibson, and hipper than the aging Hanks and Pitt, Smith has can not only open a movie to millions, he can make even the most mediocre flick a blockbuster. Really, could even the ever-likable Hanks have turned a comedy as bland as 'Hitch' into a $180-million-grossing domestic phenomenon? Could Cruise have transformed a rather wimpy sci-fi yarn like 'I, Robot' into an international smash that took in over twice that? Probably not. So I say give Smith his $20 million dollar paydays -- because anyone who can make an otherwise routine thriller like 'Enemy of the State' totally watchable deserves it.
Smith stars as Washington D.C. attorney and dedicated family man Robert Clayton Dean. After he is unwittingly given a video tying a top National Security Agency official to a political murder, Dean finds himself targeted by a relentless team of lethal NSA surveillance operatives. As he is implicated in a series of covert crimes, Dean begins to understand just how deep the conspiracy runs. This ordinary man is now in extraordinary circumstances -- with no one he can trust. Can Dean preserve the videotape as evidence, clear his name, and uncover the real killer before it's too late?
As much as it may pain some critics, the words "Tony Scott" and "Auteur" are not mutually exclusive. That's because regardless of what you think of his cinematic style, at least he has one. The over-hyped camera angles, the MTV editing, the postmodern ironic humor, the can't-catch-your-breath plotting -- it admittedly is not really my thing, but I can't deny that when I go to see a Scott movie, I always know what I'm going to get.
With 'Enemy of the State,' I have to give Scott credit for dialing his usual jacked-up style down a notch. I imagine Scott saw the movie as his chance to do a homage to the best '70s political thrillers, like 'All the President's Men' and 'Marathon Man,' which thrust an Everyman into a deadly conspiracy, ultimately proving that idealism and nobility can still triumph in a corrupt world. Scott plays the drama straight in 'Enemy,' and reserves his usual visual pyrotechnics for the film's action sequences. He also has a lot of fun with then-cutting-edge surveillance technology, smartly tapping into our culture's growing fear that no matter where we go and what we do, someone is watching our every move. The result is probably his most watchable thriller. I found myself genuinely intrigued by the machinations of the plot even if I didn't really believe a single minute of it. And if nothing else, I was always on Dean's side.
Of course, it helps when you have Smith as your lead. Though at the time he wasn't the mega-star he is today, receiving equal billing with co-lead Gene Hackman (as the shifty Edward 'Brill' Lyle, and a nice spin on his iconic 'French Connection' character), 'Enemy of the State' is Smith's movie all the way. Just watch the scene early on where he attempts to buy his wife a pair of naughty lingerie at an upscale woman's clothing store. Smith elevates what would normally be a typical scene of character exposition with his immensely likable wit and utter ease at delivering off-handed quips. And he doesn't let up the entire film -- even squaring off against formidable actors like Jon Voight, Smith disarms them instantly, purely by force of his unstoppable charm. As predictable as Dean's situation may be, and as cliched the film's resolution, I still couldn't help but root for Smith all the way through. And that, indeed, is the true definition of a movie star.
'Enemy of the State' comes to Blu-ray in a very fine 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer. It certainly helps that the film was freshly remastered in high-definition for a recent 2006 standard-def DVD release, and I'd rank it as easily one of the best Blu-ray presentations yet from Buena Vista.
The source material is in pristine shape. Grain is just about non-existent. Blacks and contrast are also excellent. Perhaps because it was a Tony Scott film, I expected a totally tweaked image, with blooming whites and whacked-out colors. But while still stylized, the image is relatively natural. Colors are very vivid, but still clean. And despite some use of color filters and harsh lighting, fleshtones remain accurate throughout.
Detail is also terrific. I've often found MPEG-2 encodes to have a harder, more coarse look, but 'Enemy of the State' is one of the smoothest I've seen. Rare is a shot not flush with depth. Shadow delineation impressive, with fine details still visible even in the darkest scenes. I often partly judge a truly great transfer by how realistic skintones look, and here I could see individual pores on Will Smith's face. Noise is also surprisingly minimal, given how rich colors are. Aside from maybe two or three shots where I saw a slight bit of fuzziness in solid patches of color, this transfer is artifact-free. An overall superb effort by Buena Vista.
Buena Vista continues to aggressively support uncompressed PCM soundtracks on its Blu-ray releases, and I say cheers to that. With so much talk about new audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD (which are indeed great, make no mistake), it is easy to forgot that plain ol' PCM can produce some the best sound around. 'Enemy of the State' is a fine example of this, with a 48 kHz/24-bit encode that delivers a very fine audio experience.
'Enemy of the State' is really quite dialogue-heavy, but there is enough surround action to keep the proceedings lively. Action scenes predictably get most of the attention, but the level of detail is quite impressive even for a major Hollywood blockbuster. During the sequence where Will Smith gradually realizes he is being bugged, and proceeds to strip off various layers of clothing while on the run, the sense of reality and clarity to the various discrete effects is excellent. Individual clanks of a microphone, or the "rippppp" of tape off the back of a shoe, sound crystal clear.
Dynamics also excel. Dialogue is rock solid in the mix, with near-perfect balance between the music and effects (which is saying a lot for a Tony Scott movie). Low bass really delivers, with deep frequencies that really make the case for uncompressed soundtracks. The attention to sonic detail is truly laudable, with high end rich and natural and mid-range expansive. Like the transfer, this soundtrack is a very fine effort from Buena Vista.
'Enemy of the State' received the full-on special edition treatment earlier this year on standard-def DVD. Though that set's supplements weren't all that extensive, it did include an Unrated Extended Version of the feature film with an additional nine minutes of footage. Alas, that cut is not included here -- only the original 132-minute theatrical version. At least we get the extra material as delete scenes, but it still would have been nice to have the extended cut -- or even better, both versions.
In any case, the highlight supplement is ported over. Running 29 minutes, "The Making of 'Enemy of the State'" is not imaginatively titled, but it is a solid featurette. Though interviews are included with Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Tony Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer and many more principals, much of that footage is taken from old EPK interviews. The best material, however, is new and comes from Scott, who explains that he took the film largely to exploit the latest in surveillance technology. Fascinating is the real background the filmmakers mined, including tapping real surveillance specialists and the like, which in turn greatly influenced the Hackman character. Interesting enough stuff to make this worth a watch.
Beware the 11-minute "All Access: Showdown" if you haven't yet seen the film. It dissects the final restaurant sequence in detail, with Tony Scott explaining how he staged the intricate action, as well as killing off a surprising number of characters in one fell swoop. So save this one for last unless you want the resolution to the movie spoilt for you.
Also included are two Deleted Scenes, which are immediately forgettable. The quality is fine, with the scenes also presented in 480p video.
The only remaining extra is the film's theatrical trailer in 480p video, with the aspect ratio shorn to 1.85:1, not the main feature's 2.35:1.
On paper, 'Enemy of the State' is a fairly routine thriller, but Will Smith makes for an incredibly likable protagonist, and director Tony Scott ramps down his usual hyper-kinetic style to create a fun conspiracy flick that cunningly exploits our fears of government surveillance run amok. This Blu-ray release is also quite good -- I was very impressed with the transfer and soundtrack, and there are a few decent extras, if nothing extravagant. But given the early scarcity of top-quality Blu-ray discs out there, 'Enemy of the State' offers solid evidence that the format is still alive and kicking.