Sunday, September 09, 2018

"Enemy of the State": 1998 film predicts NSA surveillance world after 9/11

Continuing author Said Vaidhyanathan’s discussion characters played by Gene Hackman, from the private-eye-for hire in the analogue era to the retired NSA agent “off the grid” (Lyle), I’ll re-introduce the second of these films, “Enemy of the State”, 1998, directed by Tony Scott for Touchstone Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

The film indeed takes a cynical view of “politicians”. Rep. Phil Hammersley (Jason Robards) wants to protect Americans from privacy invasion already apparent with new technology associated with the young Internet, and  former NSA honcho Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voigt)  pushes more surveillance on Americans out of fear of terrorist threats – and in that sense the film is prescient of the world after 9/11 three years later – it’s rather remarkable that writer David Marconi (and apparently novelist Vince Flynn, whom I met personally when living in Minnesota)  could anticipate the danger Americans were living under.  Reynolds has Hammersley killed, and then tries to frame lawyer Robert Dean (Will Smith) who has been working to trail a drug dealer, and happens to film the murder.  Lyle becomes Smith’s rescuer, so to speak.

This film is credited with predicting the modern government “surveillance state”.  It also predicts how the government (or a foreign enemy) could microtarget an ordinary person who stands out too much.
I recall seeing this film about a year after moving to Minneapolis, probably in the old Cinema Cinema complex (now, probably AMC) in the Mall of America.

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