When paranoia makes sense
Enemy of the State
Directed by Tony Scott and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
With Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet and Regina King
Review by Norm Dixon
The big business newspaper smartypants all shouted in unison when they reviewed this very entertaining, edge-of-the-seat thriller: "paranoia", "conspiracy theory", "technophobia". What they all avoided mentioning was that much of the film is closer to fact than fiction.
What the capitalist press and politicians like to dub as "paranoia" and "conspiracy theories" is a healthy and rational distrust of government, its military and police and its secret spy agencies, as well as close and often criminal interrelationships with big business.
Hollywood knows that the perfect embodiment of evil is not always in Moscow, outer space or Sicily. Wag the Dog, Absolute Power, Primary Colors and Murder at 1600 placed it in the White House itself, Bulworth in Congress, and JFK, the X-Files and Mercury Rising in various arms of the secret police.
Enemy of the State is foremost a first-rate action-packed thriller. It has car chases, explosions, bicycle chases, foot chases, gun fights, whiz-bang technology, multiple plot twists and gratuitous underwear scenes, and the good guys win in the end by using brains and teamwork.
Sure, it has the standard Hollywood devices that make sure the system is not condemned too much — most importantly the bad top spook/cop/general/politician is a "rogue".
Yet, the basic message is that the powerful repressive resources of the state, in the hands of criminal and corrupt leaders and their big business mates, are a far greater threat to democracy and human rights than all the terrorism, national security, drugs and crime that capitalist leaders spout crap about.
A nice touch is the reversal of cliché of the unconventional techno-rebel, cyber-misfit using honed hacking skills to bring down the military-industrial complex with a left mouse-click. The computer nerds are now on the secret police payroll and crushing civil rights with a right mouse-click.
Will Smith is great fun, and Gene Hackman brilliantly revisits his famous persona from the classic, The Conversation.
Enemy of the State puts a spotlight on the ultra-secret US National Security Agency. Its technological capabilities and power sound like science fiction, but they are real.
Using a system code-named ECHELON, the NSA can intercept and analyse every e-mail, fax, telex, computer modem signal and telephone message in the world. The system trawls through every signal and computers capture every message that includes key words, names, phrases or numbers.
The system — a joint venture between the NSA, Britain's Government Communications Headquarters, Canada's Communications Security Establishment, New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau and Australia's Defence Signals Directorate — involves huge listening posts throughout the world, including several in Australia and New Zealand, and dozens of spy satellites.
The Vietnam War proved that governments are prepared to lie and brutally sacrifice the lives of young people for imperialism's ends. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, revelations exposed the CIA's toppling of governments, massacre of Third World peoples, planned and actual assassination of radical leaders and links with organised crime and drug smugglers, while Watergate showed that top government leaders are crooks. Clinton proves they are liars and hypocrites.
Put all that together and it's little wonder that films like Enemy of the State ring true.