American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Enemy of the State" uses the thriller genre to attack what it calls "the surveillance society," an America in which underground computers at Fort Meade monitor our phone calls for trigger words like "bomb," "president" and "Allah." It stars Will Smith as a Washington, D.C., lawyer whose life is dismantled bit by bit (and byte by byte) because he possesses proof that a congressman was murdered for opposing a bill that would make government snooping easier.
For much of the movie, the lawyer doesn't even know he has the evidence, a videotape showing the congressman's suicide being faked while a high government official looks on. The official, named Reynolds and played by Jon Voight with glasses and a haircut that make him uncannily resemble Robert McNamara, directs a vendetta against the lawyer that includes planting sexual gossip in the paper, canceling his credit cards, getting him fired and eventually even trying to frame him for the murder.
Paranoid? Exaggerated? No doubt, although "Enemy of the State" reminded me of that recent scary Anthony Lewis column in the New York Times about Julie Hiatt Steele, an innocent bystander in the Kenneth Starr investigation who had her tax returns audited, her neighbors and employers questioned, and her adoption of a war orphan threatened--all because she testified that Kathleen Willey had asked her to lie about a meeting with President Clinton.
It's not the government that is the enemy, this movie argues, so much as bureaucrats and demagogues who use the power of the government to gain their own ends and cover their own tracks. Voight's character is really acting on his own behalf: He wants a communications bill passed because it will make his job easier (and perhaps make him richer). He has the congressman (Jason Robards) killed because he's the key opponent of the bill. Everything else follows from the coverup of the murder.